Students, staff still waiting to move into technical career magnet school

Along with algebra and biology, students at Richmond County’s newest high school are getting lessons in patience.

Eight weeks into the school year, the founding class of Richmond County Tech­nical Career Magnet School is still being housed at the old Lamar Elementary School on Baker Avenue while construction is completed on a south Augusta building.

School officials predicted an October completion date, but students will not move in until about December, according to director of facilities services Benton Starks.

Principal Renee Kelly said the delay has prevented teachers from starting lab work within various career pathways, leading about 45 students to transfer back to their zone schools.

The district initially accepted 180 students out of 700 applicants from across the county for the 2012-13 freshman class. Each year, the school will one add one more grade level, for a capacity of about 750.

“I think the kids are getting restless, and anticipation is wearing on them,” Kelly said. “They’re not quite in alignment as far as curriculum standards with getting the application part … but we’re creative, and we try to improvise. The show will go on.”

Richmond County Board of Education member Jack Padgett said the original idea was to have the school ready for the start of the 2012-13 school year.

The schedule was first altered when demolition on the site was delayed and again when workers had complications with a steel shipment.

School board meeting documents show construction officials announced the October completion date in late 2011.

Though the magnet school’s nine teachers expected to move in this month, they are making the best of classroom work to make up for time lost in labs.

Instead of slicing vegetables in a fully stocked kitchen, culinary arts students are getting virtual lessons on the computer. Instead of handling cameras and backdrops, broadcasting students are reading about their craft in textbooks.

The school, being built on the Augusta Technical Col­lege campus, reduced the pathway options from six to four: culinary arts, banking, broadcasting and computer networking. Kelly said the school will expand those options as soon as next year when the building’s automotive area and other facilities are ready.

When it is open, the $22 million building will offer a stainless steel kitchen, an automotive shop, a broadcasting studio and 130,000 square feet of space.

The project is mostly complete, but the 70 daily workers still have to tile some floors, install cabinets and electrical wiring, and finish painting.

Doug Pinkston, the project manager for Hanscomb/GMK, which assists the district in construction projects, said such delays are normal with large-scale projects.

He said most of the work should be completed by the end of this month, but workers must then move furniture in the building and schedule an inspection with the fire marshal, pushing the move-in date toward year’s end.

“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, though,” Pinkston said.

While at Lamar, Kelly is trying to spur creativity by playing jazz music on the speakers every day at lunch and holding checkers and chess tournaments.

She reminds students of the school’s goal to have all upperclassmen dual enroll in classes at Augusta Tech so students graduate high school with an associate’s degree or certification in their field.

“When you put a kid in an environment where they are challenged to learn and excited to learn, they will produce,” Kelly said.

Freshman Kaleen Blount, 14, said students are anxious to move in but know the wait will be worthwhile. She said she hopes her culinary arts classes will help her graduate with the skills to open her Brooklyn’s Delights bakery and become a successful bakery chef.

“They have great programs here that will help us in life,” Kaleen said. “We just want to get there.”

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