PUSH UNDERWAY to have artificial turf installed at West Thomas Stadium by this fall.
Members of the Grady County Board of Education huddled Thursday with the county school superintendent, finance officer and maintenance director to set priorities for facilities projects over the next several years.
The board indicated academics is the priority, but several members are also pushing for some athletic related projects to be completed as early as this fall.
With approximately $7.7 million in bond proceeds available to fast-track projects to be funded with the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax approved last year, Grady County School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard has requested the board establish a priority list for the approved projects.
Already, the school system has invested a portion of $1.5 million earmarked for Whigham Elementary School in renovations of restrooms and enclosing the hallway connecting the auditorium, media center and primary wing with the main hallway. Work is already well underway on the new Navy JROTC complex on the campus of Cairo High School that is being paid for with a combination of bond funds, state funds and insurance proceeds totaling approximately $1.95 million.
Next Monday, March 2 at 11 a.m. ground will be broken for a new cafeteria at Northside Elementary School and that project is projected to cost approximately $2 million.
“What we really need to know is exactly how much the Eastside project is going to cost. That will have a major impact on what we can do and when we can do it,” Dr. Gilliard told school board members last week.
The superintendent has been pushing architect Greg Smith to complete plans for the Eastside Elementary School project, which includes a new cafeteria/kitchen, new administration building, new classrooms and new media center. The preliminary budget for the project is $6 million and it will be paid for through a combination of approximately $3 million in modernization funding from the state as well as $3 million in sales tax proceeds.
“Once we know a price on Eastside, we will have a better picture of how far we can stretch the bond money,” said Dan Broome, finance officer for the school system.
The superintendent had tentatively scheduled to begin work later this year on a new gym facility with two classrooms at Shiver Elementary School and a new Grady Education Center, which would feature five classrooms, restrooms, and office space to replace the existing mobile unit on the campus of Cairo High School.
The new Grady Education Center would be constructed on property donated to the school system in addition to land the system is currently in the process of purchasing on Fourth Avenue S.E. between C.H.S. and Southside Elementary School.
Then, once Grady Education Center is moved off the C.H.S. campus, plans call for the new aquatic center to be constructed on that site, connected to the C.H.S. gymnasium. That project is estimated at $3 million, of which approximately $800,000 is sales tax proceeds collected by the City of Cairo and Grady County for that specific project.
“Once you get past Grady Education Center and the pool (on the project list), the bond money will be gone and we will be waiting for collections of the ESPLOST-5 beginning in September,” Broome said.
The finance officer also noted that the longer construction projects are delayed there is a significant chance that construction prices will increase.
Board member Jeff Worsham broached the subject of advancing a proposed facilities upgrade to West Thomas Stadium at C.H.S.
Worsham said that people had been “hounding” him about if and when the school system was going to install artificial turf on the football field.
“We’ve discussed it before. I’d been told we were going to do it, but I didn’t know when. I also understand that priorities change and the money has to be there to do it. I just want them to know I’m fighting for it,” Worsham said.
This fall, Cairo High School will celebrate 100 years of Syrupmaker football. The Cairo football team’s inaugural season was only one game in 1921 and Cairo lost it. Then in 1922 the team played a nine game season, winning two and losing seven.
“It sure would be nice to have it down in time for football season this season,” Worsham said.
Worsham asked the superintendent what his thoughts were and Dr. Gilliard responded, “I would need direction from the board and we will do our best to make it happen.”
Board Chairwoman Teresa Gee Hardy said the focus should be on academics and the other board members agreed.
“Go back and look at the numbers and what needs to be done first. If we can work it out without sacrificing classrooms then I’m fine with it,” Chairwoman Hardy said.
The total cost of a turf project would be approximately $800,000 to $1 million, according to school officials. The one proposal the system has received carries an eight-year warranty and anticipated life of 10-12 years before it would have to be replaced.
Chairwoman Hardy asked for her fellow board members to explain how the synthetic field would benefit the school system.
Board members Worsham, Derrick Majors and John White said an artificial surface would eliminate drainage issues that have plagued the West Thomas field for years. They also noted that it would eliminate issues of other sports or activities taking place on the field.
Board member Gerald Goosby said that a traveling football team is being organized here and the field could be used to host games, which could attract many visitors and contribute to the local economy.
Worsham also said there would be savings from not having to maintain the natural field, but Broome said the savings would be “minimal” compared to the expense of the initial investment and subsequent replacement costs.
“I would just like for all of the athletic leadership to be on the same page. You talk to one that wants it and you talk to another one who doesn’t,” Broome said.
Board member White, who officiates football part-time, said he was familiar with artificial turf fields that had been played on for seven years and were “still in good shape.”
Board Chairwoman Hardy said she would follow the advice of the school system’s financial officer. “If we can do it and not sacrifice what we are doing for teachers and classrooms then ok. Otherwise, it will just have to wait,” she said.
“Get that price on Eastside. Tell Greg we need to know what it’s going to be,” Worsham said to the superintendent.
Dr. Gilliard told The Messenger this week that due to the magnitude of the project, the board would be required to post the project on the state procurement website and solicit requests for proposals. Maintenance Director Dave Mitchell has also been in contact with vendors for artificial turf, but he did not have anything in writing to present Thursday.
“If we can’t get this project scheduled in March, then I seriously doubt it could get done in time for football season this year,” Dr. Gilliard said.
Also on the proposed project list reviewed by the board last week, is a replacement for the track at C.H.S. Dr. Gilliard had originally proposed building a new facility on the site of the former driver’s education range next door to the baseball and softball complexes.
However, after discussing the project, which is estimated at $2 million, the board consensus was to construct the new track complex at Washington Middle School instead of at C.H.S.
Board member Goosby said there is plenty of existing vacant land at Washington and Board member Worsham said the key to a successful track program at the high school level was to develop a strong program at the middle school.
The board also decided Thursday to authorize the superintendent to solicit a request for qualifications for architects. Dr. Gilliard said he had never had an issue with the job performance of current architect Greg Smith, but he said that due to the volume of work Smith has, the turnaround on plans for projects here had been unsatisfactory. “When you’re working on $80 million projects elsewhere, our $6 million project is very small, but big to us,” Dr. Gilliard said.