concerns heard at public hearing

Published 5:01 pm Friday, March 16, 2018

Thursday night the Decatur County Board of Education held a public hearing to discuss the possibility of closing Elcan-King Elementary.

The public hearing began with Superintendent Tim Cochran giving a presentation about why he believed the consolidation of schools was necessary. He explained the school had experience a seven and a half percent decline, and they have lost more than 400 students since 2010, therefore every school in Decatur County has more space than the system needs. However, the State of Georgia does not cover anything that is overage. This FY 2018 budget the school lost $450,000, but by eliminating some of these excess classrooms, Cochran believes the BOE could create potential savings.

Elcan- King Elementary was built in 1954 and was added onto in 1982 and 1993. The newest air units are from 1993. It also has old electrical wiring and some original electrical panel boxes. Cochran said this is difficult as new technology emerges. He said Elcan-King would need a major renovation or overhaul. The renovation for Elcan-King would cost between five-six million dollars, but six million dollars is realistic.

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Another concerning building is Bainbridge Middle School. The main parts of the building were built in 1966 and 1974. It was renovated in 1966, 1990 and 1998. The buildings newest HVAC units are from 1998. It will costs between 10-12 million dollars to renovate, but with the closing of Elcan-King, the BOE could use that money to help fix some necessities at BMS.

“We want to make sure we are giving the best resources to our students,” Cochran said. “We aren’t just planning for now, but 10 years down the road.”

After Cochran addressed the aging and funding issues, he spoke on how the redistricting would work. The residents on the west side of the river would attend West Bainbridge Elementary. The residents who live in the Northern part of the city and in Climax would transfer to Jones Wheat Elementary and the overflow from Elcan-King would attend Potter Street Elementary. This would just be a preliminary of renderings; the BOE realizes they may have to bump a road, depending on the max number of students that can attend a school.

WBE and JWE would see the largest number of new attendants. Both schools were built for 750 students, and after transfers new estimates of students would put both schools around 680 students.

Lori Digby was one of the citizens who attended the public hearing. She was indifferent to closing down Elcan-King Elementary, but was seeking information for her grandchildren.

She questioned if this new number of students would impact the teacher/student ratio.

Cochran told her they didn’t anticipate that change. He felt like with more students, there was room to have more flexibility. Students who are behind in grade level can have a smaller classroom, and students who are above average can have a larger classroom because they can handle it. They would be able to do this because they will have more teachers available.

“It’s reassuring to hear the student/teacher ratio won’t be affected,” Digby said.

One of the other questions asked was what will happen to the actual building. It’s been shown vacant buildings often have crime activity that take place inside them, so it has been recommended the building be torn down to create a well-lit, safe parking lot for Friday night football games. The BOE will have to vote on this, but the city and county have been supportive of this idea.

Hearing no other questions, the public hearing was adjourned. Cochran said he was happy with the way the hearing turned out. Although there was not much public participation, he felt like that was a testament to how much it has been discussed in the community and how the facts and figures back up this recommendation.

The next public hearing will be Monday, March 26 at 6 p.m. at 507 Martin Street in Bainbridge.