Photo Credit: Blake Aued/file
At Clarke Middle School, roaches are a way of life. They’re in classrooms, in hallways, in locker rooms and bathrooms, those with and without working sinks. Most students learn to avoid or ignore the insects—unless one disrupts the class by running near the teacher while she’s talking, or in the case of one sixth grader, unless the roach crawls onto your test.
“She was taking what she calls ‘a very important test,’ and she had to brush it off the paper,” said University of Georgia law professor Usha Rodrigues, the girl’s mother. “I’m very concerned about the facilities at Clarke Middle. Why aren’t we listening to the teachers and students who are on the ground, living with these conditions every day?”
It’s hard to ignore the stains on the ceiling and the leaks, as well as the faulty heating and cooling system. Students cope with the variable classroom temperatures by wearing sweatshirts year round. If a student is interested in hearing the teacher over the noise of the HVAC system, he or she has only a few places to sit.
“Our school is filled with stained carpets, has rooms without working air because the units are too old, contains a number of classrooms with moisture and humidity issues, and is home to a seemingly infinite army of cockroaches,” eighth grade teacher Chris Woodward told the school board at a recent meeting. “I am disappointed the board is contemplating spending $11 million on a new facility for central offices. This seems disconnected to our area of greatest need and feels discordant to our larger conversation of equity.”
In the winter, Clarke Middle students say, the building is often cold. The 2018–2019 school records for student absences show that children attending Clarke Middle had a 33% higher average number of missed days when compared to students going to school in the renovated buildings of Burney-Harris-Lyons and Coile middle schools.
Like the school district’s three other public middle schools, 60-year-old Clarke Middle School was supposed to be renovated with monies generated by ESPLOST V, which passed in 2016. John Gilbreath, director of facility planning and construction for the district, has said that a complete rebuild is necessary, as it was at Hilsman. District administration officials have said there’s enough land on the Clarke Middle campus to build a new building behind the existing outdated one, so students won’t be displaced during construction.
Initially, the ESPLOST staff was anticipating getting $1.85 million each month of the 60-month term of the referendum. But during the first 26 months, that figure was $2.04 million each month. Officials estimate the school district will receive total sales tax revenues of between $116 million and $120 million.
Records show that renovating Burney-Harris-Lyons cost $17 million, while Coile Middle’s renovation cost $16 million. The cost for Hilsman’s new campus was $28 million. Originally, $10 million was budgeted to renovate Clarke Middle, but Means now estimates the cost of a full rebuild at $25 million to $28 million.
Budgeted for both high schools is artificial turf on the football fields, a new track at Cedar Shoals, as well as softball facilities for girls at Clarke Central—all of which will cost $5 million. The school board voted to allocate $10 million for the West Broad School in August. Other money will cover the cost of a new building for the central staff, custodial equipment and school nutrition equipment. Additionally, Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary received $1.5 million; $20 million was budgeted for technology, which includes devices for students and staff and upgrades for the district; and $2.5 million for new buses.
Clarke Middle School’s renovation, Means has said, will come with the next ESPLOST, but there are no guarantees that measure will pass.