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Georgia Dome likely venue for graduations again

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley will ask the county's school board to approve holding high school graduations at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta again, when the district's governing body meets next week for its monthly business meeting.

Over two days last May, the facility was the site of graduations for eight Clayton high schools. Heatley said he would prefer holding the ceremonies at a venue in Clayton County, but the dome provided the best option for dealing with issues of size, weather and visibility. He also said he heard from parents of members of the Class of 2009, who expressed satisfaction with the Georgia Dome as a venue.

The estimated cost of having eight graduation ceremonies at the Georgia Dome in May 2010 would be $82,900, according to a price sheet included in the meeting packet for the work session the school board held earlier this week.

"I would rather hold the graduation ceremonies in Clayton County, so money can stay here in the county," Heatley told school board members at their work session this past Monday.

"Until we, as a county, have such a facility that would be able to accommodate such an event without having to worry about Mother Nature, or allowing parents to be able to see their child graduate, it would behoove us to have the graduation ceremonies at the Georgia Dome," Heatley said.

The board is scheduled to vote on his proposal on Monday, Oct. 5, according to a draft copy of that meeting's agenda included in the work session packet.

Heatley's comments to the school board stirred a flurry of questions about why graduation ceremonies could not be held closer to the county, and further comments from school board members about the need for a large, indoor venue in the county.

Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt got up during the meeting, and asked why the school system could not hold its graduation ceremonies at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park. "It's a lot closer, and it won't take nearly as long to get there, and it is a huge facility," Oswalt said.

Heatley responded by saying that since the floor is flat in the Georgia International Convention Center, it might prohibit some parents from seeing their children graduate.

A year ago, former Clayton County Schools Superintendent John Thompson announced he was moving the graduation ceremonies from the Georgia World Congress Center, to the Georgia Dome, because it was a larger venue, and it made it easier for parents to see the ceremonies. Like the Georgia International Convention Center, the floors in the Georgia World Congress Center's rooms are flat.

"When we looked at the Georgia Dome, we were looking at the visibility," said school board member Jessie Goree on why the board approved the Georgia Dome last year.

Heatley said while the county's three athletic stadiums, Tara Stadium, Twelve Oaks Stadium and Southern Crescent Stadium are big enough to hold graduation ceremonies, unpredictable weather is a downside. "You never know what the weather is going to be like until that day," he said.

During the work session, Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Alieka Anderson asked if the 1,800-seat Clayton County Performing Arts Center could be expanded to hold more people for a graduation ceremony.

Clayton County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Cephus Jackson replied: "There are 4 acres of land between the Performing Arts Center and the interstate ... We would need at least 20 acres to expand that facility and add adequate parking."

School board Vice Chairperson Ophelia Burroughs finally leaned toward her microphone and echoed Heatley's complaints about the lack of a facility in the county large enough to hold the graduation ceremonies. "I wish someone would start a campaign to build a convention center here in Clayton County," she said. "We don't have that here. If the school system could get someone to do that, the county could really make some money. We need a venue like that here in our county."