County school leaders will soon learn what improvements officials at Madison County High School desire most.
But what upgrades the school system can actually provide remains to be seen.
Madison County Schools superintendent Dr. Mitch McGhee said he expects to receive a report from the high school this month, prioritizing what needs are most dire. Though MCHS has been added onto over the years, the core of the building dates back to 1970.
“I’m anxious to see,” McGhee said. “The big thing is what they prioritize, what’s their top priority?”
At the same time, county school leaders are also considering improvements to Comer Elementary School, the system’s most crowded campus.
McGhee said there’s a good chance some students there will be put in trailers to accommodate the overflow. The building needs $1.5-2 million in improvements, according to McGhee, to remedy overcrowding.
“Really, that’s our biggest space need,” he said. “The high school is more outdated. We’ve got the space. It’s just old and outdated.”
The total cost of school system improvements could range from $10-$30 million.
Of course, the economy casts a pall over any multi-million dollar improvement plans.
The outlook for SPLOST funds was stronger when school leaders started pondering facility improvements. The idea was to sell bonds to fund the improvements and use SPLOST funds to service that debt.
However, Madison County’s SPLOST revenue has dipped as the economy has slumped.
“If we sold bonds now, we may actually be costing ourselves some money,” McGhee said. “Everything may have to be put on hold because of the economy.”
McGhee has a general idea of the scope of the desired upgrades at the high school, ranging from 20-40 more classrooms with a couple of labs to improvements to agricultural facilities. There’s also interest in upgrades to football stadium restrooms.
“I’m looking forward to see what they put as their no. 1 priority,” McGhee said.
Once that list is finalized, the Board of Education will assess the needs of both the high school and Comer Elementary School and group potential improvement projects into $10, $20 or $30 million packages.
“The board will have to kind of decide what we want to take to the voters and what we want to do,” McGhee said. “So that’s what we’re looking at.”
McGhee indicated that a $30 million project — which would cover all the system’s improvement wishes — might be a little ambitious at this point.
“The $30 million project would take quite a bit of doing on our part to raise those funds,” he said. “I’m not sure the board even would be willing to do what it would take to get $30 million.”
Before the economy collapsed, the school system’s plan was to present a SPLOST referendum to voters in October or November of 2009.
However, economic woes could push that date back.
But if the school system could raise the money for improvements, now might be the time to strike a deal on construction costs. Contractors are eagerly seeking jobs and the price of steel and concrete are down.
“You can get it done cheap because so many construction folks are looking for work,” McGhee said.
McGhee said the BOE could possibly call a work session in February to review the high school’s improvement list.
NOT ENOUGH FOR NEW SCHOOL
Wouldn’t close to $30 million be enough for a new high school? McGhee said no.
Madison County spent just $20 million to build a new middle school, but high schools carry a much heftier price tag.
With Comer Elementary School needing improvements, only about $28 million of that could be allotted toward the high school, well under the cost of even a cheap high school.
“You probably build … an economically priced, fairly cheap, brand new high school for $35 million,” McGhee said.