Forget a new-car smell — how about a new-school scent?
Hundreds of people gathered at Madison County High School Sunday to celebrate a new day for MCHS.
The school has been transformed with a sales-tax-funded, three-story building, a grant-funded college and career academy and a new football field house, with the cost largely covered by a private donation.
“It’s a great day to be a Red Raider,” said Madison County School Superintendent Allen McCannon at the MCHS ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Local residents were handed maps before touring the new, three-story building, where they took in the large cafeteria, looked out from the top story over the football field and paced the spacious halls lined with red lockers.
“I know this community is proud of this facility and the support and opportunities it will give our students for many years to come,” said MCHS principal George Bullock at a ceremony in the renovated, brightly lit and air-conditioned gym. “There is a lot of pride here in Madison County and it is very much alive today.”
The school welcomed state school superintendent John Barge at the Sunday ceremony. Barge said he was impressed by what he saw.
“It’s clear to me that Madison County is serious about providing the best education possible for students by providing as many options as possible for students,” said Barge.
The state school superintendent also praised the school for moving forward with the Broad River College and Career Academy. A separate ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Sept. 18 at 4 p.m. for those facilities on the MCHS campus. The college and career academy includes a number of programs for students, such as culinary arts, audio and video technology and film, healthcare science. There is also expanded ag education. And students can learn metal fabrication, electrical construction, architectural drawing and design, forestry, food science and nutrition, nursing and more.
Barge said he opened his career with the state Department of Education as the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) director.
“In that role, it was a dream that I had to marry rigorous academics with relevant technical education,” said Barge. “You may not know, but we have over a million children leave our high schools in the United States each year without a high school diploma. The number one reason that they self report that they do that is that they find high school unrelentingly boring and irrelevant.”
The state school superintendent said the Broad River Academy will help inspire local teens to continue learning.
“The Broad River College and Career Academy, which will be located here on this campus, will help make education more relevant for your students by providing them hands-on experience and giving them the opportunity for college credit while they’re still in high school,” said Barge. “What an incredible opportunity to let students get a head start on their careers and their lives while they finish high school.”
McCannon thanked Barge for attending the ceremony and for his work as state school superintendent.
“You stood up for our students across the state,” McCannon told Barge. “We appreciate you.”
McCannon then offered the crowd an overview of how the high school expansion happened. He talked about how MCHS students going through the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership program took a problem solving class with him, which included discussions of problems at MCHS.
“One of the most consistent things they talked about was facilities,” said McCannon. “Every year, the students would say the halls are too tight. They would talk about not liking that students in a wheel chair had to come to the back of the media center. I don’t like that. There very accurate criticisms if you want to know the truth. So, in 2010, I became interim superintendent and I was thinking, hey, the SPLOST is getting ready to renew and I’m like, we got to do something.”
The school superintendent said the next step was approaching the school board about a possible expansion project.
“It wasn’t the best time,” said McCannon. “The school system was going through a little bumpy road. The economy was not very strong and they said, you know, it’s not a great time, but they said hey, it’s what’s best for kids, so let’s do it.”
The superintendent thanked the board members, past and present, for supporting the project. He also urged the crowd to thank the BOE members: Arlen Johnson, Amy McKenzie, Robert Hooper, Cindy Nash and Greg Wilkes, as well as previous members Jim Patton and Leslie Neal.
“Without them (the BOE), this building is not here,” said McCannon. “So if you get a chance today, will you please shake their hand and tell them ‘thank you’ because I have on numerous occasions?”
McCannon thanked financial planners Frank King and Tom Camp with Raymond Jones for helping the system develop a plan on how to finance the project.
“Here’s what we wanted to do: We wanted to build this building, but the board wanted taxes to go down,” said McCannon. “Did you hear what I said? They wanted to build that building, but they wanted our taxes to go down. And you know what, we did that.”
He thanked Robertson Loia Roof Architects and Engineers, noting that the company worked well with teachers in drafting designs.
He thanked Charles Black Construction for constructing the additions.
“You pulled off a miracle,” said McCannon to Charles Black Construction representatives. “I don’t know if you realize this, but our construction project was condensed by two months. I don’t know if your remember what happened in 2013. It rained every day. We set record rainfall. Charles Black Construction, I don’t know how you did it. I think a lot of you lived here and your subcontractors, but thank you. We would not be here today without you guys. We know you went the extra mile and we appreciate you.”
McCannon thanked the staff of Southern Management for cleaning the building until 2:30 a.m. the night before the ceremony. He thanked assistant superintendent Bonnie Knight for the many hours she put into the project. And he voiced gratitude to the MCHS staff for making the massive move into the new facilities.
“We asked a lot of the teachers,” he said. “Moving is like getting a tooth pulled. It’s never pleasant.”
The superintendent noted that Madison County is ranked as one of the poorest school systems in the state in terms of property wealth. But he said the county’s high school now matches up with the richest systems in the state in terms of facilities.
“I’ll put ours up against anyone’s,” he said, before concluding the gym ceremony with a Red Raider cheer.
During Sunday’s ceremony, MCHS teacher Sabrina Bennett asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence for former Madison County High School principal Wayne McIntosh, who died July 9 at his home in South Carolina at the age of 63.
“He came to us at a time when Madison County High School needed a little loving and a little joy and that’s what he brought to us,” said Bennett. “You could always see him out in the hall and he was always ready to give you a word of praise or a pat on the back. Even when he was roaring mad, we knew it wasn’t too bad, because he still had a twinkle in his eye.”
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