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Enota plans will get further review at Gainesville school board forum
Board members agree on need for new school, but details remain in question
Gainesville School Superintendent Wanda Creel displays a drawing as school board member Sammy Smith, right, discusses questions he has about the proposed “footprint” of a new Enota school building. Board member John Filson is at his left. - photo by RON BRIDGEMAN

A new Enota school is needed and should be built, Gainesville school board members say, probably on the same schedule as agreed starting in May 2017.

But the Gainesville Board of Education will meet with the architect and engineer to raise questions about the process thus far.

The board also agreed to hold a forum for members of the community to ask questions after meeting with the architect and engineer.

The board agreed to discuss the project at its Sept. 6 work session. The forum to hear community comment was not set Saturday.

The board met for about four hours Saturday at Peach State Bank, the last hour spent on the future of a new building for Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy. The board held a “retreat” Saturday to also discuss its self-assessment, which occurred in the spring and indicated disagreement among board members.

The board has agreed to a new Enota school building and to start construction in May. The timing still is in question, but most board members said they believe the schedule can be met.

The new Enota building has been embroiled in controversy since February. It first revolved around the destruction of the Smartville garden at the 60-year-old school. That would be required in the first proposal for a new school, which calls for leveling the school property — moving 6 feet of dirt from the current school area and filling in the playground area.

Board member Willie Mitchell argued strongly against the proposed grading of the site. “I can’t buy into that” grading, he said. He argued that a new Fair Street building was constructed and that site is not level.

The playground at Fair Street “is 30 feet below the building,” he said. The new Fair Street building “has worked for two years” with no safety problems, he said.

He said the board should meet with the architect and engineer and ask questions about the proposed Enota site.

Mitchell made a motion at the July 18 board meeting to table all discussion of an Enota building until discussions could start over. That motion was defeated when only Mitchell and board member Sammy Smith voted in favor.

Over the past two to three months, the controversy has revolved around garden supporters’ arguments that their view had not been sought, that the board and administration began making plans for a new school without considering comments or questions from the community.

Board chairwoman Delores Diaz disputed that contention Saturday.

“I feel that we have done a great deal to try to get community input,” she said. “I don’t want it to be perceived that none (community comment) was sought.”

Mitchell said the community comment came as building plans were developed for the Fair Street school.

“The community had a seat at the table along with the board,” he said.

He said he would expect meetings involving all who are interested should lead to acceptance of “these are the things we can do. These are the things we cannot do.”

That occurred during the process for planning for the new Fair Street, he said.

Smith said the playground at Enota was not built by the school district.

“It was a gift on property we owned,” he said.

He said that information “should have been conveyed to the architects — that the board didn’t build the playground.”

Smith added the Smartville garden also was a gift, donated by community members. He said he believes supporters of the garden can “offer up a compromise in order to preserve some and give up some” of the garden.

Superintendent Wanda Creel told the board the plans thus far were “40 to 50 percent” completed. Everything presented, she said, was for comment and reaction.

She told the board the school district needs to have building plans done “around December” to have time to get state approvals, conduct a cost analysis, approve a construction budget and be ready to be by spring.

Diaz also said the board should “be ready to accept” additional costs if changes are made in the building plans. About $301,000 have been spent thus far on the Enota project, Creel said. Those charges, she said, are for architectural fees and reimbursable expenses.

Mitchell replied that eliminating the grading of up to 6 feet of dirt would save some spending.

Creel noted architects recommended the grading because it would add to space needed for vehicle traffic and buses and would provide a “sight line” over the entire school property.

Vice Chairman Brett Mercer contended the board should first meet with the architect and engineer before asking for comment from the community. He warned he would oppose any delay in the schedule.

“We still have a middle school that’s too big and a high school that’s getting too big,” he said. The need for addressing those schools is “coming quickly,” Mercer said.

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