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Committee pushes Aquatic Center closer to reality

By Greg Gelpi

A school board committee will recommend moving closer to breaking ground on a major SPLOST project and recommend a list of priorities for a new SPLOST.

The Clayton County Board of Education Facility/Purchasing/Transportation Committee approved a resolution that could have ground being broken for the Aquatic Center as early as June.

The resolution, an agreement between the school board and Clayton County, irons out details of construction and operation of the facility.

The school system and county included the Aquatic Center in their respective referendums for Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes.

The school board already approved spending up to $3.9 million for its half of the joint venture. The price tag for the school board is projected to be $3,352,000.

The facility is expected to take 10 months to build, said John Ramage, assistant superintendent of facilities, construction and purchasing. Upon completion, the facility will include a 50-meter swimming pool, a 25-meter warm-up pool, dressing rooms and restrooms.

The site will also feature a Community Center, which is being funded entirely by the county. The Community Center will feature a gymnasium, community room and exercise, dance, aerobics and other related facilities.

School board attorney Gary Sams recommended that the committee make one change to the contract drawn up jointly between him and county attorney Don Comer. The contract allows either the school system or county to accept a change to the construction plans. If the county and school system disagree about the change, the issue could go to arbitration and the side that didn't want the change could be forced to share the cost of the change.

Sams recommended amending that to cap the costs of changes at the amount the school board previously allocated for the project.

"Hopefully, the next time we mention this will be at a groundbreaking," said Brian Miller, director of facility auxiliary services and purchasing.

The committee also approved sending a list of priorities for a proposed new 1-cent SPLOST to the full board.

The current 1-cent SPLOST expires Dec. 31, but voters must approve extending the sales tax in August in order to prevent any disruption in tax collections.

The list of priorities for the five-year tax includes funding for six new schools n three elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school.

Between the six new schools and renovations, the proposed SPLOST would fund the addition of 649 classrooms.

Ramage cautioned, though, that building classrooms can't keep pace with the growth of the county, meaning that temporary classrooms will continue to be necessary. The system has 609 trailers in use.

Projections indicate that by the 2007-2008 school year, the school system will have 55,808 students, compared to the less than 52,000 students the system has now.

Ramage said that adding classrooms would be the priority of a new SPLOST, but that the tax would also fund the purchasing of buses and other transportation needs, computer systems and other technology for all schools, the building and equipping of a new management information systems department facility and renovations to all schools and to other school facilities.

Sams explained that if the school system doesn't include an item in its proposal brought to voters, then the item can't be funded through the SPLOST.

"If you don't list a school on this resolution, you can't spend a penny on it," Sams said. "If it does pass, you have to live up to it."

The proposal spreads out the construction of classroom space to allow the school system to collect funding to operate the classrooms. Ramage said the cost of running an elementary school for a year is about $1 million.

The school board will consider the committee's recommendations at its next regular business meeting scheduled for May 3.