By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Education may take its meetings back to the school system's central office in Jonesboro by the end of the month -- if renovations continue to proceed on schedule, according to district officials.
The board has been in session at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center since May, while construction crews removed the six-foot tall, Supreme-Court-like bench members once sat behind at the central office. It is being replaced with something closer to the ground.
Projectors with a wall screen, a flat-screen television, cameras, and a control booth also are being added.
The major part of the makeover involves reducing the height of the board's long desk, by two feet. It has been changed, so that a person standing in front of it will be at eye-level with board members.
"The board room is a much-used space, serving the public every month for multiple board meetings, and is used frequently by the school system as a gathering space," said Ronnie Watts, who recently retired as the district's director of construction. "As such, it was time to update this space to retrofit it with modern equipment and furnishings."
The board's central office is located at 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro. If all goes as planned, officials hope to resume meetings at the site Aug. 28, according to district spokesman Charles White.
"We have reserved the Performing Arts Center through the Sept. 10 business meeting, just in case," White said.
The district did not provide an exact dollar figure for the renovations, but it will cost "less than $100,000," and the money will come from a reserve fund established by Corrective Superintendent John Thompson, according to Watts.
A large projection screen now hangs behind the board's desk. Presentations will be projected onto this screen, so audience members will be able to see it. The same information which is projected on that screen will be shown on a flat-screen TV. It will hang over the aisle between two sets of pews, and face board members, so they will not have to turn around to the see the larger screen.
An audio box is now located in the hallway behind the board room, so local TV news stations can plug in their audio equipment and record everything that is said by board members and presenters.
A small camera will be mounted on the front of the board's desk, facing a podium, to record speakers during board meetings. A wide screen camera will be placed in the balcony of the board room to record board members. A control booth has also been added in the balcony, so a district official can manage both cameras for quick editing for broadcasts on the district's cable channel.
The control booth also will allow live broadcasts on the Internet, if the board chooses to go in that direction, White said.
There will be some pews removed from the board room, but those were pews which were used by administration officials and members of the media. Those groups will sit in an area that was once occupied by pews. Railing will be added to separate those groups from other members of the audience. Watts described the new look as one resembling a courtroom.
Board Chairperson Michelle Strong said she is looking forward to sitting at a desk that brings the board closer to the floor.
"When we were sitting up so high, there was a disconnect with the public," she said. "I think by lowering it, we'll be able to do a better job of connecting with people, because we'll be able to make eye contact with them."