Board weighs cost of school construction

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bricks missing, walls crumbling, floor tiles coming unglued, and little to no heating.

Such is the reality faced by the Butler County School System as it attempts to lay the groundwork for either starting from scratch with new school construction, or undertaking massive - and costly - renovations.

As put by Superintendent Mike Looney:

&#8220We're not talking about just a fresh coat of paint here.”

Looney briefed Board of Education members on the current condition of the system's facilities during a workshop held at the central office last Thursday night. Looney's report comes on the heels of a survey conducted under the direction of Wayne Boswell, administrative assistant for operations, which indicated that improvements and new construction to all county schools located in Greenville, Georgiana, and McKenzie could cost between $20 to $28 million.

&#8220In asking for it (the survey) we knew what we'd get,” commented board member Joseph Lisenby.

The $28 million cost includes construction of a new school in Georgiana that would consolidate Georgiana High School and Robert L. Austin Elementary. The new facility would cost $14.6 million. Both R.L. Austin and Georgiana High would be abandoned, per the architect's recommendation, and along with the new Georgiana school, an athletic complex would be constructed at Greenville High School, new classrooms and a cafeteria would built at W.O. Parmer, and McKenzie School, Greenville Middle School, and Greenville Elementary would received millions of dollars in renovations.

The $20 million plan only allows for renovations to the two Georgiana schools and even then the only guarantee from the architect is an additional 15 years of building life for the two facilities.

&#8220So from looking at this, it's clear that to the architect we have two facilities in Georgiana that are complete losses,” said Lisenby.

Looney also pointed to census data that shows the Butler County losing school age children in the southern parts of the county. Numbers presented in the 2000 census conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau indicated a 6.11 percent decline in district-wide enrollment by 2025, said Looney.

Looney said both Georgiana High School and R.L. Austin have lost a greater percent than that since 2002. In four years, Georgiana's enrollment has gone from 351 students to 275 students, said Looney. R.L. Austin's has gone from 353 students to 307 students.

&#8220We have to worry about that loss,” said Looney. &#8220I think much of it comes from the facilities. People don't want to send their children to these schools in the shape they're in.”

For discussion, Looney presented the board with several options:

N Don't make a decision. But Looney said the cost of not making a decision would be even more expensive, representing a 1 percent increase per month in total cost of any future building projects suggested by the survey.

N Retire Robert L. Austin and Georgiana High, build a unit school to house all Georgiana students, renovate GES and W.O. Parmer, and build an athletic facility for GHS (the $28 million plan). However, Lisenby said he would not be inclined to support a new athletic facility at GHS at the expense of the other schools not receiving funding for renovations. Board member Joanne Peak agreed.

&#8220For me, personally, it's at the bottom of the list,” he said. &#8220We have to talk about these classrooms first where our children will be educated.”

N Close RLA and Georgina High and rezone students to Greenville and McKenzie.

N Retire all three southern schools and combine them into a new unit school. Which would not be the most popular choice, Looney added.

N Retire W.O. Parmer, GES, Robert L. Austin, and Georgiana High, and build replacement schools.

Still the main obstacle may be convincing the public there is a need for new facilities, said board member Linda Cook Hamilton.

&#8220We can fund these with a bond issue, which we realistically can't afford to do,” said Hamilton. &#8220Or by raising taxes which would be unpopular with the people.”

Looney agreed and said for any construction project to be considered funding for capital improvement would have to drastically increase. Butler County Schools currently receive 12 mils of property tax.

&#8220We haven't generated enough money locally to even maintain these schools in the last 50 years much less build new ones,” said Looney.

The board agreed to meet with local officials at the county and city level, setting Jan. 20 as the date with the meeting running from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The location of the meeting will be announced at a later date.