Will Schofield believes nothing is beyond repair.
“We’ve proved that over 25 years,” the Hall County Schools superintendent said. “However, if you want to spend millions of dollars on 50- to 60-year-old facilities, at some point it becomes a point of diminishing returns.”
Band-Aids can only go so far.
With Hall County Schools’ 10-year facilities plan, which was revealed to the public on Aug. 26, Schofield and Hall’s Board of Education, decided it was time to start anew with some of the system’s oldest elementary schools.
The $258 million plan allots $109 million to build four new elementary schools to replace seven: McEver Arts Academy, Myers Elementary, Oakwood Elementary, Riverbend Elementary, White Sulphur Elementary, Tadmore Elementary and World Language Academy Primary. That would leave the system with three fewer elementary schools.
The plan’s expenditures also include renovations and construction at Lyman Hall Elementary, Sardis Elementary and Johnson High School for $36 million.
It additionally entails building a new middle school in South Hall, presumably Cherokee Bluff Middle, for $44 million. Schofield said that is something the system is prioritizing.
The 10-year plan is contingent upon voters passing the March 2020 renewal of the special purpose local option sales tax for education and the passage of a government obligation bond issue.
Certain school clusters will receive more improvements than others, and this is intentional.
“That’s no secret,” Schofield said. “It’s because they need it, that’s the answer. I think it will be important for us to talk about equity and providing clean, well-lit spaces for students and all team members.”
Craig Herrington, vice chairman of the board, said he believes it’s time to “put new facilities in place that gives them (students) more room and usable space.”
“If you’re in the school and class changes, at some of these schools it’s near impossible to walk down the hallway,” Herrington said. “...You can’t fix that with renovations.”
Board member Mark Pettitt attended two of the seven elementary schools on the replacement list while growing up in Hall County. He said he is proud of the education he received in the district and knows Hall has done an incredible job maintaining the space and providing opportunities to students.
“At some point it becomes inefficient to operate schools that are severely undersized, that geographically don’t make sense anymore because of annexation issues,” Pettitt said. “I agree with the superintendent with that fact that this is a plan that I think incorporates what’s best for the entire county as a whole.”
Big changes at the elementary level
Schofield said those seven elementary schools were chosen because of the state of their infrastructure, overall efficiency, location and age. Many of the schools he found were “tremendously undersized” and made staffing more costly to operate.
“When you get something that’s 50-70 years old, by definition things just don’t work well anymore,” he said. “Once you start running into plumbing issues that are underground, there’s almost no way to fix that.”
Myers and White Sulphur are the youngest of the seven at 44 years old, and Riverbend takes the cake for oldest at 65.
Schofield said there are many advantages to children attending a modern facility, including working air conditioning and heat, larger hallway spaces and safer entry points.
And with three fewer elementary schools, Schofield anticipates accumulating $3-4 million a year in savings involving staffing, operations and transportation.
The modern buildings will be more energy efficient, helping cut down on utility costs.
Schofield said the district has a lot of ideas as to where the new schools will be located but is not ready to reveal those plans yet.
“What we really need to do is gather more information and testing the sites in terms of whether or not it's the best possible site,” he said. “We want to avoid running people through the emotions of thinking it’s somewhere and then changing our minds.”
Improvements for the arts
The facility plan designates $9 million each for new performing arts centers at Johnson and West Hall high schools.
West Hall High’s theater seats only 130 people. This year the district reported 1,130 students enrolled at the school.
Schofield said West Hall High’s performing arts center, which lies in the middle of the school, will either be renovated to add space or a new building will be erected on one end of the campus.
For Johnson, he envisions taking down the performing arts center and rebuilding it so it connects the gymnasium to the classroom space.
“This district recognizes the importance of the arts,” Schofield said. “Johnson High and West Hall High need some new performing art centers for drama, musical programs and places to have the community.”
For years he said the district has been talking about the need for area improvements with marching band, choral programs and various clubs. The plan allots $12 million toward those upgrades for all of the school district’s clusters.
While a timeline is still in the works, Schofield said certain projects lend themselves to moving immediately, like the two performing arts centers and additional extra-curricular activities spaces.
An increased focus on agriculture
Hall aims to tap into one of the largest industries in Georgia by offering an agri-business center. The facilities plan designates $4 million toward building a center, which would be accessible to high schoolers and middle schoolers.
“By creating a world class agri-business center in partnership with private industries and the university system, we’ll expose middle and high school students to the incredible careers out there in agri-business,” Schofield said.