For nearly two years, Madison County High School hasn’t been just a school. It’s been a construction zone.
There’s been a lot of mud, hard hats, the beeping of machines in reverse, a gym out of use.
But if the construction project has been a four-quarter football game, then MCHS is in the two-minute drill. It’s almost over. And Madison County High School students, parents and teachers will soon see their patience rewarded.
MCHS is nearing the end of a three-prong construction phase that includes a sales-tax-funded, three-story building, a grant-funded agriculture building and a new football field house, with the cost largely covered by a private donation.
The aesthetic appeal of the new facilities isn’t lost on school leaders. They note that the campus seems changed for the better.
“Everybody is just excited,” said superintendent Allen McCannon. “One of the best places to see it is from the (football) stadium. It (the view of the new three-story structure) is like wow! It gives the whole campus a different feel. I hope it makes kids feel that education is important and valued by our constituents and our county. We’re thinking it’s going to have positive impacts on our students.”
McCannon said students have long said the high school halls were too narrow and the school was too crowded. He said the issue was repeatedly brought up during Chamber of Commerce leadership committee meetings with students.
“The kids were just really bothered about the facilities,” he said.
While some people have voiced a desire in recent years for the county to split into two high schools, or perhaps have two middle schools, McCannon said the county’s limited tax base simply won’t support additional schools.
“I don’t think people understand the expense (of additional schools),” said McCannon. “High schools aren’t properly funded in the funding formula anyway. And to have two small high schools, which some people would prefer to have, two middle schools and two high schools. Listen, that would drive our millage rate to the max. And we still couldn’t have done it. Oconee County and Jackson County they have the tax base. Madison County does not have the tax base to have two small middle schools and two small high schools. We just don’t have it. That is not an opinion. The bottom line is, we don’t have the tax base to do it.”
With a new high school not financially feasible, the board of education aimed to expand and renovate the lone, existing high school in the heart of the county.
The school board presented the expansion project to voters in 2011 and Madison County 83-percent of citizens who cast a ballot in that referendum gave the thumbs up to adding on to the high school.
Since Madison County has a limited tax base, leaders must commit more than one SPLOST renewal to the project.
“The thing people need to understand is that the voters had to commit three SPLOSTs,” said McCannon. “We only generate $10 million over five years. And some neighboring places generate $20 something million and they’re half our size. They can most of the time build a school off one SPLOST. We are low wealth and we do want the best for our kids and we have to do things a little different. We’re not crying; we’re not complaining. Those are our variables. We have to take the variables given to us and do the best we can.”
The SPLOST renewals in 2016 and 2021 will also be tagged for paying for the MCHS upgrades. And leaders hope to have the construction paid off in 2029.
But it’s doubtful any students will have SPLOST in their minds when they walk into the new facilities on the first day of school Aug. 15.
The school has added 120,000 square feet of space and there will likely be something to excite every student.
“Somebody at the high school said last week, and this is true to form, there should not be a student who arrives on our campus Aug. 15 who does not have a new space for something they’re interested in: athletics, fine arts, CTAE (career, technical and agricultural education), ag, science labs, media center,” said Knight. “Every student, whatever their interest is, there’s something new for them. And how many times do you find that?”
The expansion includes a new ROTC suite, journalism lab, business lab, band room, choral suite, media center, administrative area, counseling area, cafeteria, kitchen, special ed area and new science labs. There’s a big, new football field house
And the school system also received a $3.65 million grant to establish a Broad River College and Career Academy, which includes the construction of a new ag life sciences building. That building includes multi-purpose, biotechnology, animal science and plant science/horticulture labs. The college and career academy will teach job-relevant skills to local students. There will be new programs for students, such as culinary arts, audio and video technology and film, healthcare science. There will be expanded ag education. Students can learn metal fabrication, electrical construction, architectural drawing and design, forestry, food science and nutrition, nursing and more.
MCHS leaders hosted a dinner in the high school media center in January to talk about the college and career academy and what it will mean for local students.
Paul “Bo” Boykin, CEO of the career academy, spoke about many opportunities that students in Madison, Elbert and Clarke counties will have at the Danielsville campus in August.
“It’s about transitions, helping students transition from high school to the next step,” said Boykin of the college and career academy.
Of course, the transition for the old school setting to the new school environment includes a lot of challenges. Crew members and contractors for Charles Black Construction have been hard at work this summer getting the facilities ready for the students’ return.
McCannon said a number of system employees have also put in a lot of hours to get the school ready.
“The maintenance and transportation department have worked tirelessly and these teachers,” said McCannon. “It was very, very difficult for teachers. That’s the thing about when you move, it’s just like when you move yourself. It’s difficult. Moving is not fun. And some teachers were under some difficult situations.”
McCannon said the CTAE wing, which includes large, construction equipment, presents real difficulty in moving.
“The community needs to understand, it was a lot of hard work by the staff,” said the superintendent. “When you’re talking about moving CTAE classrooms, you’re talking about a tremendous amount of equipment.”
Knight noted that the kitchen staff also had to put in a lot of hard work.
“The kitchen had to be out by the 23 (of May),” said Knight. “By Monday following graduation, the kitchen was down to dirt. Because they’re completely redoing the plumbing in there and building a culinary art suite that will be ready to go with an 80-seat restaurant.”
While the MCHS expansion doesn’t include a new gym, the old gym is now air conditioned and has a new floor.
“We’re redoing the floor to coaches’ specifications and redoing a little bit of the locker rooms for security and safety,” said Knight. “And it’s air conditioned and repainted and we redid the lighting so it’s more energy efficient. It will be nice. It will look sharp.”
Madison County has tentatively scheduled a ribbon cutting for the large, new three-story building at MCHS for Aug. 10 at 3 p.m. A ribbon cutting for the Broad River Career Academy building has been set for 4 p.m., Sept. 18. Georgia Lieutenant Gov. Casey Cagle is scheduled to attend.
Knight said the MCHS administrators will work with parents and students to let them know where to go when classes begin.
“Traffic flow and parking plans will be available when students purchase parking passes or pick up schedules and at open house,” said Knight. “The high school plans to use all communication methods available to them in getting this information out.”
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