The Clarke County Board of Education rejected Superintendent Demond Means’ plan to spend $11 million on a South Milledge Avenue office building at a meeting last week where Clarke Middle School students, teachers and parents lobbied the board to reinstate renovations to the school that Means wants to delay.
After looking at several other potential sites—including the former Macy’s at Georgia Square Mall, the former Hobby Lobby off Atlanta Highway and the Georgia Power building on Prince Avenue—Means recommended 394 S. Milledge Ave., a location near the corner of Milledge and Baxter adjacent to Clarke Central High School. Means wants administrators out of the H.T. Edwards building so the career academy can expand.
But a majority of school board members balked at the building’s size and cost. It carries a nearly $7 million price tag, with another $4 million in renovations required, mainly to knock down interior walls to create a space large enough for board meetings. And at 38,000 square feet, it’s substantially smaller than what Means had said he was looking for, although he has said it has enough offices and parking to accommodate the central office staff.
The vote was 6–3, with Greg Davis, Frances Berry, Patricia Yager, Kara Dyckman, John Knox and Tawana Mattox in favor of canceling the contract to purchase the property. Linda Davis, Charles Worthy and LaKeisha Gantt wanted to extend the contract another 30 days so an appraisal could be done. Others, though, had already made up their minds. “There is nothing that could change my mind about spending $6.7 million on… an old building in a fancy part of town that we just don’t need,” Yager said.
After the vote, Means told Flagpole he is moving on to Plan B: building a new district headquarters at the old Gaines School site. A vote on that plan could come as early as next month.
$9 million of the $11 million for South Milledge would have come from ESPLOST (the sales tax for school capital projects), with the other $2 million from the sale of CCSD’s Mitchell Bridge Road building in 2015. Means is also using the $37 million left in ESPLOST to fund renovations at the old West Broad School, new tracks and fields at Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central high schools, and additions to Gaines and Chase Street elementary schools, where students are using portable classrooms. The rejiggering, though, means that Means is delaying renovations to Clarke Middle, after the county’s three other middle schools were rebuilt. Ribbon cuttings for Hilsman Middle and its new health clinic are scheduled for Oct. 22.
Means said in a news release sent out just prior to the board meeting that Clarke Middle will be a top priority in ESPLOST VI, which will go before voters in 2021, and that he would rather wait and spend $25 million or more to completely rebuild Clarke Middle, rather than spend the $10 million budgeted in SPLOST V for renovations that could be inadequate. The on-call architect the board voted to hire last week, Lawrenceville-based Lindsay Pope Brayfield Clifford and Associates, could start a community engagement and planning process as early as December, he said.
But that was not good enough for several Clarke Middle students, teachers and parents who spoke at the board meeting, describing a building that leaks; has an old HVAC that’s so loud it must be turned off to watch videos; has mold, stained carpets and ceilings; and is infested with roaches. (Linda Davis blamed the bug problem on the school’s garden, goats and chickens.) They questioned why offices for administrators should be prioritized over a school’s learning and teaching conditions. “Please put the students first,” said seventh grader Vivian Carabello.
Mattox said the board’s SPLOST committee had a long discussion about Clarke Middle at its most recent meeting. “Parents and teachers, know you are being heard,” she said.
In other CCSD news, Winterville Mayor Dodd Ferrelle sent word to Flagpole that the city council is expected to hold a no-confidence vote on Means at its Nov. 12 meeting. The council voted unanimously to authorize Ferrelle to draft a proclamation “expressing the City of Winterville's complete lack of confidence in the current Superintendent of the Clarke County School System and recommending that the current Clarke County Board of Education receive oversight training.”
The BOE held a retreat with the Georgia School Board Association last month and is working on scheduling dates for additional training, Gantt said at the meeting.