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Sales tax aims to fix Gainesville, Hall, Buford schools
School officials hopeful as early voting begins this week on extension of SPLOST for education
Josue Medina measures a piece of trim last week for a remodeled bathroom at Woods Mill High School. Part of the school would be used by Fair Street students if the SPLOST passes and a new Fair Street building is built. - photo by Tom Reed

Early voting

What: Special purpose local option sales tax for education
When: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, Wednesday through March 11
Where: Hall County Elections and Voter Registration Office, Suite 2, 2285 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville


What it will pay for

Hall County Schools

$50 million
Renovation of eight existing school roofs, 18 electrical systems and some HVAC systems, along with general renovation of multiple facilities
$20 million
New core academic classroom facilities and fixtures
$15 million
Classroom technology
$9.7 million
Payment of principal and interest due on outstanding bond debt
$8 million
Fine arts and noncore academic program facilities and fixtures
$3 million
School buses and library books

Gainesville City Schools

$19 million
Replace Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School building
$5.1 million
Payment of principal and interest on Series 2007 outstanding debt
$3 million
Renovations and modifications to Woods Mill Academy and Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy buildings
$1.5 million
Renovations and modifications to other school sites
School buses and books

Buford City Schools

Projected revenue of $3.8 million with a cap of
$4.1 million to be split among new classroom and administrative space, renovations of existing facilities and classroom technology

A proposed one-penny sales tax for school facilities could be a tough sell to Hall County and Gainesville voters next month.

Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said with today's sluggish economy, the mood among voters is widely "anti-tax."

However, she said there's an important thing for voters to keep in mind.

"This is not a new tax. It's a renewal of the one-penny sales tax," she said.

Dunlap is helping to organize the special purpose local option sales tax campaign, which includes a committee of community members called "Citizens for a Better Education."

In March, Gainesville, Hall and Buford school systems will seek a renewal to the 1-cent tax that could generate nearly $130 million over five years. The issue will appear before voters March 15; early voting begins Wednesday.

The current SPLOST is set to expire in 2012.

"In the past, the SPLOST passed very easily," Dunlap said. "Everyone wants good, first-class facilities for our children, and I believe people still want that today."

The SPLOST funds would go toward school building projects as well as pay off existing debt.

Superintendents in Gainesville and Hall County said school buildings will need significant repairs over the next few years. Some facilities in both districts are more than 50 years old.

Gainesville City Schools is projected to receive about $25.5 million from the SPLOST, and Hall County would collect about $100 million.

Because part of Buford is in Hall County, Buford City Schools also would receive a share of a projected $3.8 million.

SPLOST money is divided based on the districts' enrollment numbers.

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said the funds would help pay for $50 million in building renovations.

"Work would be done on heating and air systems, roof replacements and electrical systems," he said. "Those are areas we have fallen behind and they are in dire need."

Another $15 million would be spent on technology.

"Over the past five years we've spent an awful lot of money getting technology infrastructure in place such as bandwidth and video conferencing," Schofield said.

"We're in a position to make wise use of classroom devices."

Johnson High School principal Damon Gibbs, who is also the system's construction manager, has seen SPLOST dollars in action over the last year. He's also keenly aware of the state of the district's 33 school buildings.

"SPLOST has made a significant difference in our schools," he said. "We're still making payments on schools we bought 20 years ago and with SPLOST money, new schools in the system can be paid for with cash."

Gibbs says many repairs are critical, and must be made even if the SPLOST vote is unsuccessful.

"When it's 5 degrees outside and you have a room that's 50 degrees, that's not an option," he said. "If you flood a school with leaky roofs; those are not options. As a parent, I want my child to be in a dry, warm, safe classroom, and that's what we all want for our kids."

A major priority in Gainesville will be to rebuild the Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School building originally built in 1937.

If funds are secured, construction could begin in early September. Fair Street students would be housed at Woods Mill Academy in the meantime, Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

Renovations also would be made at Enota Multiple Intelligences and Woods Mill academies, including electrical work and floor replacement.

Both Gainesville and Hall County systems will use funds to pay off principal and interest on outstanding bonds.

Local voters have approved previous SPLOSTs in 1997, 2001 and 2006.

Since that time, Hall County Schools has built 10 new schools, renovated existing buildings and purchased land for future school sites.

Gainesville City Schools built the new Gainesville High School and gym, added two elementary schools and reduced a majority of its bond debt.

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