The Richmond County Board of Education approved the move Tuesday along with plans of how to deal with Murphey Middle and Butler High schools while extensive renovations also begin in the fall.
However most of the discussion and emotion surrounded the decision to move the alternative program and how that will impact morale for the already stigmatized campus.
“You’re taking people in their own, permanent building out and sending them somewhere else,” said board member Barbara Pulliam. “It’s like a neighbor coming in my house and saying ‘Get out while my house is being built.’”
Jeff Baker, a builder for Hanscomb GMK, a Columbia firm that is helping the district oversee its building projects, said moving the alternative program to the vacant Lamar Elementary School on Baker Avenue and housing Laney at Tubman Education Center is the most logical and cost effective option out of many considered.
Lamar, which will get some painting and refurbishing work this summer, has a capacity of about 400, enough to accommodate the alternative program but too small for Laney’s population of more than 600.
Tubman, with a capacity of about 700, can hold the technology and science labs needed for Laney’s various programs and still house Tubman’s Performance Learning Center students and the county’s String Orchestra, Baker said.
Because Laney’s new construction will take place in the middle of existing buildings, there is no safe way to keep all students on the campus in portables or other facilities, Baker said. Staff looked at housing the ninth grade academy in a nearby Georgia Regents University Medical Center parking lot and lowering enrollment for the rest of the student body, but Baker said that endeavor would cost more than $1 million.
“The students are going to be fine,” said Superintendent Frank Roberson. “They follow the temperature of the adults. If the adults are fine, the students are going to be fine. This is going to benefit the entire system. For that reason, I think the inconvenience is going to be temporary, but it’s going to improve the quality of Richmond County schools.”
Murphey and Butler students and staff will also have adjustments during their two-year renovations. While Murphey undergoes a $15 million building replacement and site improvements, students and staff will relocate to the old Tubman Middle School building on Bungalow Road, which is currently vacant. Because of Butler’s vast campus, students and staff will be able to stay on site during construction but will be isolated to the vocational buildings and portables while $20.8 million of renovations take place.
The projects are part of the fourth phase of the one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax approved by voters in November. There are 37 projects in total, six major overhauls that will top $7 million and another 31 under $5 million.
While Butler, Laney and Murphey students and staff will have to put up with some inconvenience in exchange for pristine buildings, the several dozen staff members, teachers and parents from Tubman who attended Tuesday’s meeting said they’ve already paid their dues.
Tubman Education Center re-opened in 2011 after a three-year, $10 million makeover, which kept students and staff at another site until the project was completed.
Jorae Jenkins, a mentor who works at Tubman, said the morale of students and staff will suffer by being moved away from a school built specifically for them.
“They’re already stigmatized by being in the alternative school,” Jenkins said. “Now this is just another way they will feel like people don’t care.”