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BOC removes stumbling block for school construction

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Until now, failure to formalize an agreement between the City of Riverdale and the county -- as to who is responsible for securing building permits -- had brought plans to build a new high school and stadium behind Southern Regional Medical Center to a standstill.

On Tuesday, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners took away the hurdle by agreeing unanimously to secure inspections and permits for any new school buildings. The agreement is intended to keep the building schedule of the new high school on track.

Ronnie Watts, director of construction for Clayton County Public Schools, said the lack of a formalized agreement was a "road block" for the project. Constitutionally, he said, the school board is not allowed to secure its own building permits.

"The clearing and grading permits are all in place, but we do not have the building permit for the stadium and high school," said Watts. He said the 155-acre property has been prepared for three schools and a new 5,000 seat stadium, complete with an eight-lane running track. Watts said the agreement would keep the opening of the new, 1,850 student-capacity high school on schedule for August 2009.

BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell said supporting the agreement was "the right thing to do. It's not about the county's property or the city's property," said Bell. "It's about the needs of the citizens."

While the BOC agreed to secure building permits, it delayed considering a request to de-annex the property from the City of Riverdale. Riverdale expressed concerns about providing efficient, adequate public safety to the new facilities, particularly fire protection. "It would be much easier," to provide fire protection, "with the [Clayton County] fire station being right there," said Riverdale City Manager Iris Jessie. "If it were in the county, it would solve everything."

Clayton County Attorney Michael Smith said the county would reconsider de-annexing the property "once we have figured out what needs to be de-annexed."

Also on Tuesday night, the BOC and the Clayton County Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the Archway Partnership Project (APP), in separate meetings.

A program designed to improve communities by leveraging the resources and expertise of the University System of Georgia, the APP may prove to be a vital development tool for the county. The votes on Tuesday secure the participation of the county's two largest financial contributors to the effort.

"It is one of the most exciting opportunities that Clayton County will ever have the opportunity to participate in," said Bell. "I expect it will be able to help us significantly with our school board problems and the nine objectives," recommended by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to avert the revocation of Clayton Public School's accreditation.

Kim Seibert, coordinator of the University of Georgia/Clayton County cooperative extension service, said the county is on track to becoming an "Archway Community" by July 1.

"Most of the entities are going through the same process as the board of commissioners and board of education ... making a formal resolution," said Seibert. "As far as I know, all of the conversation has been affirmative. Do I have all the signatures yet ... no, but I don't anticipate any problems," Seibert continued. "I think it's an excellent opportunity for the community, and everybody sees it that way."

In other action, the board of commissioners voted to extend the county's zoning moratorium until June 20. The delay is intended to give the county time to finish drafting its new zoning ordinance, which is expected to be complete by May 22. The time between May 22 and June 20 will give county employees time to learn the new codes, before new zoning applications are accepted, according to Interim Zoning Administrator Beverly Ramsey.