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Athletic-related projects on the drawing board for the Grady County School System currently remain on the back burner as system officials continue to push projects related to academics to the front of the list.
Grady County School System superintendent, Dr. Kermit Gilliard, has previously told the board that his recommendation would always be to finance the projects that impact academics and the core mission of the system before spending sales tax dollars on athletic-related projects.
On Tuesday night, the superintendent updated the board on the facilities project list, but he also said, “We don’t have to go in this order if you (the board) want a different order.”
Dr. Gilliard said having an adequate supply of money was also an issue and was primary in his decision making.
Board member Jeff Worsham said there are some athletic projects that, in his opinion, are needed, and he urged the board to move forward with them.
Included on the project list related to athletics is improvements to West Thomas stadium, new lighting for the baseball and softball complex at Cairo High School, as well as a new track and soccer field at C.H.S. Those projects alone are projected to cost approximately $3.8 million. The improvements at the football stadium include a replacement of the turf, improved lighting and new visitors bleachers.
Over the five-year life of the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST), school system officials predict the system could collect nearly $14 million if collections remain as strong as they have been since the beginning of collections. In the most recent ESPLOST, the system collected approximately $12 million, according to Dan Broome, finance officer for the school system.
Another sports related project that has been put on the list for a projected start date of July 2022 is a swimming pool at C.H.S. This project dates back many years when it was approved by the voters as a City of Cairo and Grady County joint project. Originally, the aquatic center was to be built at Barber Park, however, the city and county have transferred the nearly $800,000 that was collected in sales taxes earmarked for the project to the school system.
Dr. Gilliard is anticipating investing approximately $2.2 million in ESPLOST revenue to complete the project in June 2023.
The superintendent also reminded the board that the ESPLOST runs through 2025. “This is just the beginning of the tax,” he said.
Broome said it was important to note that the projected costs of the individual projects became less realistic the longer it takes to actually begin work.
Dr. Gilliard reported Tuesday night that a property owner has offered an existing structure that could be used to house the Grady Education Center. Currently, the superintendent was projecting spending $2.5 million on the project with an anticipated construction start date of January 2021.
However, if the board can come to terms on the purchase of the building that has been offered for sale, Dr. Gilliard is hopeful much of that $2.5 million could be made available for other projects.
Board member John White asked if Dr. Gilliard or Broome had any idea what would be needed in terms of revenue to support sports programs at the schools since the football program was not going to generate the revenue it has in the past due to COVID-19.
“We haven’t had that discussion, but I can tell you that the athletic department is doing everything possible to make it without additional support. “We are limited as to what we can do other than with ESPLOST anyway,” Dr. Gilliard said.
The superintendent also praised the fundraising efforts of the Syrupmaker Touchdown Club. “They have done a tremendous job of fundraising,” he said.
“It could get ugly by the end of the (school) year,” board member White said.
White also asked what the plans were for the basketball season. Dr. Gilliard said that he had heard of “some crazy rules” that were being proposed, but that he had not seen anything in writing as of Tuesday.
The board met in a closed door session for the superintendent to brief the board on the real estate offer that had been extended to the board regarding the Grady Education Center. No action was taken Tuesday night, but Dr. Gilliard told The Messenger he anticipates a decision could be made by the November board meeting, if not earlier.
The first project on the list that was updated this week, is the new Northside Elementary School cafeteria/kitchen. The system earned approximately $300,000 from the state for the project and the remaining $1.2 million is being paid out of ESPLOST 4 funds. The current ESPLOST is #5.
Board member Gerald Goosby asked if that project was on schedule. Dr. Gilliard said actually it appears the construction will be completed by December and depending on the delivery and installation of some equipment, the new facility could be opened in January, two months prior to the March 2021 completion date.
The second project on the list is the projected $7.1 million renovation of Eastside Elementary School. For that project, the state is kicking in $3.1 million and the additional $4 million will come out of ESPLOST 5 funds.
“We are hoping to begin work in November, but site work may begin ahead of November,” Dr. Gilliard said. The Eastside project includes new administrative offices, classrooms, media center and cafeteria/kitchen. If all goes to plan, the project will wrap up next August.
The Shiver Elementary School gym is the third project on the list and system officials are waiting for the go-ahead from the state to begin construction. According to Dr. Gilliard, the pad for the new facility has been poured. There is $900,000 from ESPLOST 4 earmarked for this project.
Other projects include improvements at Whigham and Southside Elementary Schools.