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Clayton Schools to build second bus facility

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Scratch a middle school off the list of things that are going to be built on the 155 acres of land in Riverdale that's already home to Charles R. Drew High School and Southern Crescent Stadium.

The part of the land that was once slated for a middle school, across Garden Walk Boulevard from Drew High School, is now scheduled to, instead, become the location of a second school bus barn for Clayton County Public Schools, according to an official who oversees construction and transportation for the district.

The bus-storage facility will house 200 school buses, and will include a building that has a training room, bathrooms, a break room, and storage lockers for bus drivers, according to school system Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson. The facility will also have a driver training course, where potential bus drivers can hone their skills, he said.

Jackson said the new facility will supplement the existing school bus facility, which is located at 7860 North McDonough Street, in Jonesboro.

"We've got a little over 500 buses in our fleet, and so there is a lot of congestion at our current facility in the late afternoon, when everyone is bringing their buses back at the end of their shifts," Jackson said. "This new facility will help relieve some of that congestion. In a perfect world, we'd also have a third facility in the Lovejoy area for bus routes in that part of the county, but we don't have the luxury of doing that right now because of a lack of funding."

Construction of what will be called the Garden Walk Transportation Facility is scheduled to begin in September, with an expected completion date of May 2011, according to a school system list of current and upcoming construction projects.

The list also shows that the project will cost $1.6 million, with the money coming from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) IV funds. It is being designed by Griffin-based Manley, Spangler, Smith Architects.

Jackson said the facility is being built to give the school bus drivers who drive routes in the College Park and Riverdale areas a place to park their buses after work.

Presently, drivers are parking their buses in shopping plaza and church parking lots in the Riverdale area, Jackson said.

"By building this facility, we've got a safe, controlled-access location for our drivers to park their buses after school on that side of the county, without having to worry about being the victim of a crime, or about their buses being vandalized," Jackson said.

The chief operations officer also said the facility is needed to give the district's transportation department a place to operate a driver training course, rather than operating a temporary one in the parking lot of Tara Stadium in Jonesboro.

But since the planned bus facility will be located across Garden Walk Boulevard from Drew High School, Jackson said it will not have a re-fueling station, or a maintenance facility, out of concern for the safety of students attending the high school, and a future elementary school. Bus drivers will still have to drive to the bus facility in Jonesboro to re-fuel and have maintenance done on their buses, he said.

Construction of the new transportation facility, however, means that the school system will not complete plans in place three and a half years ago to build a total of three schools on the property, which is located behind Southern Regional Medical Center.

The land was a source of controversy when it was purchased by the school system in September 2006. Critics denounced the school system at the time for spending a total of $18 million to first, purchase the 155-acre property -- 50 acres of which are wetlands -- from a developer, and then have one of his companies perform grading work on the land.

At the time, school system officials defended the purchase by saying they would build an athletic stadium and three schools -- a high school, a middle school and an elementary school -- on the property.

The stadium and the high school have already been built, and construction of the elementary school -- a replacement facility for nearby Riverdale Elementary School -- is scheduled to begin next year. Plans for the middle school, though, have been shelved.

Jackson said the middle school was no longer needed because of a $5 million classroom expansion project currently under way at nearby Riverdale Middle School. That project will add a classroom wing to that school, relieving overcrowding, according to Jackson.

"It wouldn't be prudent for me to build this $5 million classroom addition at Riverdale Middle School, and then not use it because I turned around and built a new middle school nearby as well," Jackson said.