County wants school projects started early

Amid gloomy economic news, there might be a bright spot locally: school construction.


Richmond County hopes to take advantage of lower construction costs by putting several projects out to bid ahead of schedule, said program manager Jeff Baker of Hanscomb/GMK.

"The numbers are coming in a little under our budgeted costs," Mr. Baker said.

This month alone, he hopes to bid out projects at Butler High, Garrett Elementary and National Hills Elementary schools, along with work on new tracks at Butler, Josey High School and the Academy of Richmond County.

The benefits are more than just the low costs and savings to taxpayers. Projects will be finished sooner, local contractors will be working and contingency projects stand a better chance of being completed, Mr. Baker said.

The school system is in the third phase of its construction program funded by its special purpose local option sales tax. Richmond County voters approved the current list of projects in 2006.

Mr. Baker said the construction program is a few percentage points ahead of its budgeted costs. He is hesitant to be overly optimistic, but he said the further ahead of budget the program gets, the greater the chances of completing one of the contingency projects. Among those are a new elementary school and an elementary fine arts magnet school.

The school system can't build all of its projects from the five-year tax at once because it takes time for the tax revenue to come in and for designs to be completed.

There is also the concern of flooding the local construction market and driving up prices, Mr. Baker said. But with the economy as it is and the construction industry hurting for business, that isn't likely, he said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or