Fort Gordon is three days away from releasing its collective breath, long held over the prospect of putting a Richmond County school on post.
Trustees will vote Thursday on sending a letter of intent to the fort, a formal first step notifying them the board will try to build an elementary school on base. There are 10 conditions trustees and the military must agree upon for the school, the first-ever public school on post, to go forward.
Money for the proposed school wouldn't available until 2001 or 2002, even if trustees approve the issue on Thursday. The school would be paid for with leftover funds from the 1-cent school sales tax now being collected.
Several board members contacted Monday said they are still deciding how they'll vote when the letter of intent comes up Thursday, although others said they will support the fort.
"I'm real undecided either way," said trustee Andrew Jefferson. "I've never been faced with this type of project before, a school on a military reservation."
Some of the questions board members have deal with the future of Fort Gordon, even though the fort has never been a real target of past military base closings. What, trustee Ken Echols said, would happen to the taxpayer-funded school if the post were to close?
"The location we're planning is quite close to Gate 5, so in the unlikely event the post would be closed, it wouldn't be difficult to provide a secured access through Gate 5," said Terry Smith, deputy to the fort's garrison commander, Col. Thom Tuckey. Col. Tuckey is on temporary duty in Virginia until Thursday.
Gate 5 is located off Tobacco Road and Deans Bridge Road, near the housing complexes on post, and could still be accessible if the military moved away. Fort Gordon is offering the school board land for a lease of $1 a year, but the board will do its own search for a suitable site if trustees agree to proceed.
Other concerns deal with the population of the elementary school, which must maintain enrollments similar to other Richmond County elementary schools, according to the proposed letter.
Yet Mr. Echols said he thinks the board likely will say yes to the Army on Thursday, although "It'd be close." Other trustees backed up his assessment; some who said they still have questions said they will support the fort.
"I don't have any real strong objections," said trustee Mary Oglesby, board vice president.
Trustee Cherie Foster, though, doesn't need to mull over the issue any more: She knows she'll vote yes.
"I think we need a school at Fort Gordon," Ms. Foster said. "They'll fill up a school, pretty much, even though we'll probably pull in some from the outside. I think it's a good idea."