School renovations await decision on moving students

The first steps for multimillion-dollar renovations are planned to begin this summer at three Rich­mond Coun­ty schools, but the upgrades could mean years of relocation for hundreds of students.

District officials are determining where to move Laney High, Butler High and Mur­phey Middle school students so construction can begin on their campuses in the fall.

Board of Education Presi­dent Venus Cain said that after the facilities department staff presents the best plan, the board will vote on the arrangements.

“The sooner we can do it, the better,” Cain said.

Benton Starks, the senior director of facilities and maintenance, said that during campus renovations, officials can choose to keep the students and staffers in place and work around them, build temporary facilities on or near the campus, or move the school population to another site.

The old Tubman Middle School on Bungalow Road and Lamar Ele­mentary School are vacant and available for use. Starks said some officials have considered using the Tub­man Education Center on Walton Way to house Laney’s student and staffers and moving Tubman’s to another site.

“There’s a plethora of options we have to sort through,” Starks said.

No bids have yet been awarded for the projects, but Starks said he hopes to have the demolition and abatement phases completed in the summer to begin construction.

Those three projects – costing about $55 million – and more than 30 other construction projects across the district are being funded by Phase IV of the 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax approved by Richmond County voters. The more than 13 Tier I projects are in the early stages and have not broken ground.

Butler is set to have a $20 million makeover, including new classrooms; cafeteria and media center renovations; and band, choral and stadium upgrades. The $20 million project at Laney will replace classrooms and renovate the cafeteria and gym. Murphey Middle will have its entire building replaced for $15 million. All projects could take at least two years to complete.

Though it is inconvenient to relocate three schools simultaneously, board member Jack Padgett said it is the most cost-effective way to complete projects quickly while market prices are optimal.

“The quicker we bid these buildings with the economy in the shape it is now, we’d be saving millions of dollars on almost every project,” he said. “That’s the rush to get them out and get them done.”

Padgett and board member Jimmy Atkins said that they’d rather not see Tubman Edu­ca­tion Center students and staffers uprooted to make room for Laney or Butler but that they’d like to review all options.

“It makes no sense to me to uproot kids from (Tubman) and move them to another,” Atkins said. “We remodeled Tub­man to accommodate the alternative center for a reason.”

Padgett said Butler’s vast campus could allow for portable classrooms there, but Murphey’s smaller property would make that difficult.

Board members were expected to discuss and vote on arrangements at its spring retreat today and Saturday, but the retreat was canceled and has yet to be rescheduled.

“We just have to see what our options are,” Atkins said. “The bottom line is whatever is going to be the most cost-
effective for the school system and best for the kids involved is what we should do.”

SCHOOL RENOVATIONS

The sales tax project list includes more than $130 million in renovations at about 35 Richmond County schools. Most of the projects in the first tier of the schedule are in the early stages with preliminary designs being submitted to the state for review. The projects include:

BUTLER HIGH SCHOOL: $20.8 million for replacement of existing classroom facilities; new kitchen/cafeteria renovations; renovation of media center; band and choral, stadium upgrades; fieldhouse and site circulation upgrades.

LANEY HIGH SCHOOL: $20 million for classroom replacements; new kitchen cafeteria renovations; light renovation of remaining classrooms; miscellaneous renovations to gym and site circulation upgrades.

MURPHEY MIDDLE SCHOOL: $15 million for building replacement; replacement of wood structure buildings, restroom renovations and site improvements.

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