Richmond County vocational high school plans move ahead

An artist's rendering shows the planned design for a vocational high school in Richmond County. The school would be built on the site of the school system's transportation department.

Construction of a long-awaited vocational high school planned for Richmond County is expected to be bid in about 90 days.

"The project is 90 percent designed," said Jeff Baker with Hanscomb GMK, a firm assisting with several school projects.

The school should be finished by mid-year 2012 and work could get started within 30 days after a bid is awarded, Baker said.

The project, officials say, has recently kicked into high gear but was first presented to voters as a special purpose local option sales tax project several years ago.

The magnet school would go where the school system's transportation department is located on Augusta Technical College's main campus. Officials hope to have the transportation department and its bus depot moved later this year to a new site at Lumpkin Road and Mike Padgett Highway.

The idea is to have curriculum at the vocational magnet pair up with studies at Augusta Tech.

"Everything we offer here at Augusta Tech will basically be available to students who go to that (vocational school) program," said Augusta Tech President Terry Elam, noting that in their junior and senior year students of the vocational high school could start taking classes at Augusta Tech as well.

Elam said the idea of a vocational magnet high school in Richmond County has been talked about since the early 2000s.

The cost of the project has been budgeted at $25 million, Baker said.

Elam said that until recently the vocational school idea had been placed on the back burner.

"The big issue was getting the buses out of there," Elam said of not being able to build the vocational school until a new location was determined for the school system's transportation department. "So that was finally resolved."

Richmond County school board Vice President Alex Howard said he's glad to see the project moving ahead.

"It's something we need to do," he said. "I think we need to go ahead and focus our efforts on it."

Howard said the new high school will be about 130,000 square feet and will house about 800 students. He said it will offer courses not only in auto mechanics and the culinary arts but also information technology and marketing.

Elam said the time frame for completion will ultimately be up to Richmond County school officials, but "our hope is that within two years this school will be open, and we want it to be an integral part of what we're doing."

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