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Magnet school facility awaits approval

BOE will vote on construction contract Monday

An artist’s rendering shows the proposed Clayton County Public Schools Fine Arts Magnet High School building. District officials hope to break ground on the building in mid-February, pending school board approval of a construction contract.

An artist’s rendering shows the proposed Clayton County Public Schools Fine Arts Magnet High School building. District officials hope to break ground on the building in mid-February, pending school board approval of a construction contract.

— The Clayton County Fine Arts Magnet High School may soon get a new home after a long wait.

On Monday, the Clayton County Board of Education is expected to vote on an $18.9 million construction contract to build a permanent home for the school at the school system’s Performing Arts Center. Cumming-based Cooper and Company General Contractors was the lowest bidder and would therefore get the contract, according to a report to board members.

Plans for the building have been on the books for at least four years, and Clayton County voters gave their blessing to build it with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax dollars in 2009.

However, it spent years on the backburner while other projects, such as a new Riverdale Elementary School facility, school security improvements and high school auxiliary gymnasiums, were given priority.

“We started it, then we backed off of it and now we’re going back to it again,” said school system Chief Operation Officer Cephus Jackson. “When it’s in the SPLOST referendum, you’ve got to do it.”

If the board approves the contract next week, construction could begin by mid-February, said Jackson. Construction is expected to last at least a year and a half, and the district isn’t expect to move students and teachers in to the facility until the middle of the 2014-2015 school year.

“We anticipate a July 2014 completion, and we don’t want to take occupancy until about January 2015,” said Jackson. “I’ve been through that [situation] where you take occupancy in July and then you’re trying to get in there in August. You have to get through the little [pre-opening] punch list and it’s just too much.”

Jackson said the district took a similar approach to the opening of the new Riverdale Elementary School. That school was finished last summer, but classes did not move in until earlier this month.

In a sense, the new facility will feel more like an expansion of the Performing Arts Center than a new facility being built from scratch.

“As you face the PAC, it’ll be on your right-hand side, and it’ll be connected to the PAC by a corridor which will be an exhibit area for the students,” Jackson said.

The new 122,700-square foot facility is expected to be three stories tall, with 46 classrooms and space for 825 students. It is slated to include space for classrooms, science labs, computer labs, a media center, 2-D and 3-D art studios, a dance studio, a theater, a half-court gymnasium, a kitchen and cafeteria and chorus, band and orchestra rooms.

“They can do little performances in at the school, but by virtue of the fact that we will have attached it to the PAC, then they’ll have those three theaters in the PAC to do other things,” Jackson said.

Completion of the building is expected to mark a fundamental shift for the school, whose offerings have been duplicated at the elementary school and middle school levels.

The fine arts magnet program was started as a “school within a school.” Students enrolled in the program identified themselves as magnet high school students but they attended most of their classes at Mount Zion High School.

Some of their more specialized classes, including theater, dance and chorus, were offered in trailers at Mount Zion and the Clayton County Performing Arts Center located across the street.

The magnet school also has its own “administrator” and counselor, but no principal or assistant principal.

The school’s website still lists itself as a magnet program offered at Mount Zion, but that will change once the new building opens in January 2015.

The new facility will give students a traditional, “full-service school” to attend by comparison to the existing set-up. Jackson said students will no longer have to cross busy Mount Zion Parkway to get from their classes at Mount Zion High School to their classes at the PAC.

“It’ll be a separate school from Mount Zion,” Jackson said.