School officials plan to start building a new, larger Ethel Kight school in summer 2014 to open fall 2015.
School system Superintendent Cole Pugh said that for the 2014-2015 school year students and staff will be transferred to the former West Side Magnet School building while the current Ethel Kight Magnet School building is demolished and new facility built on the current site. The new school building is planned to keep the current gym and cafeteria, which are both in good shape and large enough to suit the school’s needs and would save “hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars,” Pugh said.
Pugh said two architectural firms were brought in to propose how the work could be completed, both with students and staff at the school during construction and without. Pugh said he wanted to avoid moving people from the school during construction, but after looking at the proposals, felt it was best to move students and employees after the current school year ends until the new school is ready.
“One of the first reasons we thought about is the safety of students and employees,” Pugh said. “You can separate them and put up fences and those kinds of things, but it’ll be safer if the students and employees aren’t there.”
The proposed structure of the new school also would prohibit keeping the current facility operating, Pugh said. The chosen architecture firm, 2WR of Georgia, is expected to present some of its designs and proposals for the new school in the coming months.
Recounting how the school system came to the decision for the larger Ethel Kight, Pugh said the idea of how to handle elementary school costs and attendance was brought to the Advisory Task Force – a group made up of school employees, parents and community members. The task force noted that smaller schools cost more to educate students. As an example, Pugh said when Cannon Street Elementary was open with 208 students, it cost almost $10,000 per student per year, while Callaway Elementary, its largest elementary school, compared at $6,200.
“Whether … smaller elementaries are a good thing or not, we had to talk about whether we could continue to operate and afford to operate smaller elementary schools,” Pugh said.
That spurred the school system to reconfigure the school zones last year to ultimately plan for a system divided into 10 elementary school zones. Ethel Kight was in the right location and had sufficient land for a larger campus.
An assessment of schools also showed Ethel Kight to be in the worst condition.
“I’m going to tell you, walking down the hall, it looks pretty good,” Pugh said. “The walls look pretty good, the floors look pretty good, but Carter, in their assessment, thought about what’s under the floor, behind the wall, in the ceiling, HVAC systems, roofs and the whole envelope of the facility, and not just what the hall looks like.”
The construction project is expected to be completed by July 2015, in time to prepare the building for students and staff the following August for the new school year. The project will use special-purpose, local-option sales tax, or SPLOST, funds.
On Thursday, the Board of Education will vote on the first step of the plan, choosing a construction manager at-risk for the project. School system staff is recommending Freeman and Associates Inc. of Columbus with a fee of 6.75 percent of the final project cost, budgeted at $14 million, plus $10,000 for pre-construction services.
Proposals from 12 groups were evaluated by a panel of school system administrators and representatives from 2WR and G3 Contract Services, which scored Freeman the highest in a ranking of the proposals. Pugh said Freeman has experience building similar-sized projects in similar time lines, has worked with architect 2WR and has committed to using local contractors.