Lowndes school system plans to spend millions on renovation

Lowndes High School Renovation

VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - The Lowndes County Board of Education met to discuss the plan for a school renovation project, expecting to cost near $60 million in taxpayer money.

Wes Taylor, Lowndes schools superintendent, said the project discussion and planning towards the Lowndes High School renovation project has been ongoing since 2017.

The school board met Friday to hear what the architect company, the students and the administration has been dreaming up.

“As we’ve gone through the process, the design has been modified and as you heard this morning, the board is certainly going to have additional input in the final design before we start construction," said Wes Taylor, Lowndes County Schools Superintendent.

A change, the superintendent pointed out, that needs to happen because of the school’s infrastructure issues. Lowndes High is a 50-year-old school, officials said.

“In terms of plumbing, wiring, and that sort of thing," Taylor said. “So, we’re going to be able to resolve all of those issues, as well as have a new facility. It will be very practical, very functional, and it will be state of the art.”

That plan for the new facility comes with many requests and recommendations made by a group of administrators, faculty and students who were surveyed on multiple topics.

“What’s working currently in the layout of Lowndes High? If you could change something, what would you change to improve it? How can we make it better? How can we make instructional space more effective,” Taylor said of the survey.

One aspect the Lowndes High community asked for was an expansion of their current 200 seat, lecture hall and fine arts auditorium — but not just for the students.

“We’ll have a large fine arts facility, that I think will be something that not only the students and staff, but the community will be proud of as well,” said Taylor.

Outside of the new arts facility, the updates are also expected to include more classroom space, but a standing concern is the displacement of students out of their current space.

The board discussed two, two-year renovation options, one of which includes 30 temporary portable classrooms.

“Demolishing the original building all at the same time, during the summer of 2019, and then building the structure back on the same footprint,” Taylor said of the first option.

The second option requires expanding the current facility into the parking lot, which only calls for five or six of those classrooms.

“Only demolishing A and B wing initially, summer of 2019 and actually moving the structure out into the parking lot a little bit,” said Taylor.

And this decision, and a few other points, were at the center of a heated discussion among school board members.

“That’s why we needed to have this meeting today — just as a part of the process," Taylor said. "I mean, I think we’re on track. This needed to happen today so that they could all be afforded the opportunity to have some input.”

The second option requires less student displacement and is cheaper but offers less classroom space and less flexibility for future classroom creation.

Tensions in the meeting ran high, as board members raised concerns about ensuring that the revamped facility meeting the need of the community for the 50 plus years.

“Just because we’ve got this plan, doesn’t mean that we’ve ought to be just be ‘whatever it is, is okay,’" said Glenn Gregory, board member. “I think we’d be rubber stamping it if we go ahead with it. There’s not reason not to take our time, slow down a little bit, take these things into consideration, and just get right back on the horse.”

The goal is to create a facility that will serve the everyone for many years to come, not just the near future, according to Taylor.

The board did not take any official action Friday but the architect is planning to meet with board members individually.

There is no word on what affect this will have on the timeline just yet.

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