Gainesville and Hall County residents voted resoundingly on Tuesday in approval of both the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax as well as bond referendums for Gainesville and Hall County schools, giving both the Hall County School District and the Gainesville City School System some much needed financial breathing room to move forward with planned construction projects.
The E-SPLOST received around 67% approval, while bonds for GCSS and HCSD received 72% and 65% approval, respectively.
Both HCSD superintendent Will Schofield and GCSS superintendent Jeremy Williams said they were overwhelmed and humbled by the show of support in the school systems that the vote reflected.
“It really reaffirmed for me the goodness of this community that we live in, and their commitment to the next generation,” Schofield said. “I take that as a sacred trust.”
The result takes the school systems out of the wait-and-see mode they were in regarding planned construction projects and allows them to start taking action.
As Williams put it: “Now, we can finally get to work.”
For GCSS, that all begins Monday, when the board of education will vote on beginning construction on a new advanced studies building for the Gainesville High School campus.
The new building will house the school’s career, technical and agricultural education programs, as well as higher level classes such as AP biology and AP chemistry, according to Williams. The project is the first of many in a planned complete revamp of the GHS campus. Carroll Daniel Construction Company has already been chosen to do the work, and plans have already been approved by the city of Gainesville. The board of education vote is the last barrier to hurdle before construction can begin.
Williams said a new middle school that would alleviate the overcrowding at the current Gainesville Middle School is the school system’s top priority, but that project will take a bit longer to develop.
For HCSD, Schofield said the first step is passing a reimbursement resolution through the board of education, allowing the school to spend funds that are not yet in hand and then reimburse that money in the immediate future.
From there, the top priority is building a new Cherokee Bluff Middle School, a project that will cost the school district around $44 million.
Schofield also said he would be recommending the board of education select an architect to design the new Ramsey Road elementary school project at the next meeting, as well as look at architects to design new performing arts centers at Johnson and West Hall high schools.
Schofield added that HCSD would also be purchasing some new buses to replace the “aged but dependable” fleet currently used by the school system.
Further down the line, HCSD will build three other new elementary schools in addition to the Ramsey Road project, and will make renovations and additions to several existing schools.
Both Schofield and Williams said the successful vote will provide a major morale boost to school faculty fresh off of an unexpectedly difficult finish to the year that forced teachers to adapt to online learning virtually overnight.
Williams said the vote proves that the Gainesville community is still capable of being “one Gainesville, working together.” Schofield said it “put an exclamation point” on the outpouring of support HCSD teachers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and everyone involved in the school system has received from families in the community as they have worked to make the end of the year as normal as possible given the circumstances.
“I think our folks, they have to be feeling appreciated, perhaps more appreciated than public school individuals have in a long time,” he said. “And all I’d say is it’s long overdue.”