Lowndes County school upgrades stalled

Published 6:05 pm Friday, July 28, 2006

Lowndes County education officials are working to rearrange space for students after learning that additions to some schools won’t be ready for the start of classes next week.

Schools Superintendent Mike Halford said construction and approval from the U.S. Department of Justice probably won’t come before December.

“It’s not an ideal situation, but we’ll make do. When it comes from the Justice Department, that’s pretty stout. It’s something we’ve got to deal with,” Halford said Thursday.

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“It’s going to bite us some, we’re having to make some adjustments, but it’s just until December. We’ll make do.”

Last year, the county Board of Education approved more than $3 million for the addition of four classrooms each and other changes at the three Caledonia schools and four classrooms at New Hope Middle School and six at New Hope High School.

Improvements at West Lowndes, including the addition of two classrooms at an elementary school, a new baseball field for the high school, a new parking lot, expanded school libraries and a refurbished gymnasium floor, were put off pending review by the Justice Department and school officials.

Justice Department lawyers and others visited the county earlier this year to study the school campuses to ensure that West Lowndes, which is almost all black, was up to the standards of Caledonia and New Hope, which are predominantly white.

The review is part of a 30-year-old federal consent decree designed to ensure black students were given opportunities and facilities equal to those of white students under integration.

The Caledonia and New Hope projects have been completed or will be soon, but the West Lowndes work has had to be rebid. The district had planned to use the Caledonia and New Hope additions when schools open next week.

The work must be completed by Dec. 1 under the timetable set by the Justice Department, which recently notified the county the additions at New Hope and Caledonia can’t be used until the West Lowndes work is done.

“Not having the space won’t make us too crowded because we really weren’t adding that many classroom personnel,” Halford said. “Where it will make a big difference is storage and office space. And, the art and music teachers we’ve hired will have to go into individual classrooms instead of having their own space.”

The new bids on the West Lowndes work aren’t scheduled to be opened until the school board’s Aug. 10 meeting. The district may have to ask for an extension from the Justice Department if it appears the work can’t be completed before the Dec. 1 deadline.

“What will have to be done is if it becomes a problem with the timetable, we might have to ask for an extension,” said Jeff Smith, the school district’s attorney.