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School officials move quickly on SPLOST projects

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools officials said they will not wait for their current Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST III) to expire before moving ahead with SPLOST IV projects, such as replacing roofs at several schools.

They are not even waiting for SPLOST IV to commence before planning for SPLOST V - whose fate will not be decided by Clayton County voters for another five years.

The school system's current special sales tax is set to expire on Dec. 31. On Tuesday, only 2.36 percent of the county's 144,593 registered voters showed up for a special election that ended with the five-year, $280.25 million SPLOST IV being approved with 74.79 percent of the votes cast.

"There's no point in waiting to start these projects," said Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley. "We've already been plotting, and planning, and now it's time to put those plans into action."

The SPLOST IV funds will be used to pay for a variety of projects, including replacing roofs at several schools; building a replacement facility for Riverdale Elementary School; constructing auxiliary gymnasiums at the district's nine high schools, and purchasing new school buses.

School System Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson said he would like to fast-track school re-roofing projects, so aging, leaking roofs can begin to be pulled up as early as December, or sooner - pending Clayton County Board of Education approval for allocating the tax funds.

The first signs of SPLOST IV projects getting underway came on Wednesday. Maintenance workers visited the county's 60 schools, Jackson said, while he had his staff writing Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for the school re-roofing projects.

"If the [school] board allows us to use pre-qualified contractors, we may be able to bid these projects out within 60 days, and we could probably start construction on those buildings by December," Jackson said.

Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Alieka Anderson said the school board will weigh what it should do with the re-roofing projects, once Jackson comes to the board with a request.

"We support the efforts to repair our older schools, as well other schools that need repairs," Anderson said. "We're not only about student achievement. We're also about providing students with a safe learning environment."

Jackson said schools with more severe roof leaks and mold damage will be considered first. Asbestos, which is also in the walls at several of those schools, will be removed as well, he said.

He said his goal is to have schools mold-and asbestos-free by the time SPLOST IV ends.

Construction of a replacement facility for Riverdale Elementary School is another priority project that will be put on the front burner, he said.

Riverdale Elementary is currently located on Upper Riverdale Road, at the intersections with Valley Hill Road and Camp Street, in Riverdale. It will be moving to a new facility to be built next to Charles R. Drew High School on Garden Walk Boulevard.

Much of the school's $16 million price tag will be funded by left-over money from SPLOST III, but $4 million of the money needed will come from SPLOST IV, Jackson said.

"I'm thinking we could start construction sometime in 2010, and maybe I'm being optimistic when I say this, but I would like to see us get into that facility by August 2011," he said.

Other projects that will be funded by SPLOST IV will follow, including the purchase of new school buses; the construction of high school auxiliary gymnasiums; installation of keyless entry and video surveillance systems in the schools; upgrades of technology equipment, and the construction of a building for the Elite Scholars Academy Charter School.

"I think we're going to have state-of-the-art facilities in Clayton County five years from now," Jackson said.

While the school system is preparing to move ahead on SPLOST IV, Jackson said discussions are already beginning to take place among district administrators on what will be included in a proposed SPLOST V.

He said it will likely focus on school renovation projects, like SPLOST IV is primarily designed to do, but the future SPLOST would give attention to schools that were built under earlier SPLOSTs.

"We began SPLOST I in 1997, and the schools built with that money will be approaching 20 years in age by that time, so it will be time to renovate them," Jackson said. "You have to begin planning now. We're thinking very proactively, and we want our facilities to continue to get better and better."