BoE Chairman Hollowell: ‘Booth is a hard building to fix’

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Moderator Steve Brown, at left, was joined by Fayette County Board of Education Chairman Scott Hollowell and school board member Barry Marchman for a Sept. 10 meeting with parents at The Bridge Community Center in Peachtree City. Photo/Ben Nelms.
Moderator Steve Brown, at left, was joined by Fayette County Board of Education Chairman Scott Hollowell and school board member Barry Marchman for a Sept. 10 meeting with parents at The Bridge Community Center in Peachtree City. Photo/Ben Nelms.

Fayette County Board of Education Chairman Scott Hollowell and school board member Barry Marchman fielded questions from Facebook and the audience at a parents meeting held Sept. 10 at The Bridge Community Center in Peachtree City.

Among the topics at the meeting were school capacities and, more much extensively, the upcoming decision on what to do with Booth Middle School.

The event was broadcast by The Citizen Live and can be viewed in its entirety at https://www.facebook.com/mycitizen/videos/417784262197155/

Questions came from the 40 people in attendance and from those submitting on Facebook. The event was moderated by the Fayette County Republican Party’s Steve Brown.

Hollowell and Marchman at the outset of the meeting noted that they did not represent the entire school board.

An audience question asked why some schools are crowded while other have excess capacity, and if balancing the attendance zones has been examined.

Marchman responded, saying as schools open and close the attendance lines are reviewed.

Another topic dealt with Booth Middle School in Peachtree City, and the school board’s current consideration of essentially constructing a new school on the current site (the term “transformational” was used at the Sept. 9 school board meeting) or building on the 37-acre site between Carriage Lane and Stagecoach Road on the city’s east side.

In terms of student capacity, Hollowell said either approach to Booth would result in the same capacity. That capacity would be 1,400 students.

Marchman and Hollowell were asked why Booth was being considered.

“Booth is kind of a hard building to fix. It was built without any windows, it was built without a cafeteria. They were originally delivering the food into the pods. They added a cafeteria, but it was an elementary school cafeteria. The gym is not big enough to really accommodate the school. The hallways are very narrow,” Hollowell said. “I just kind of feel every now and then you have to make an investment in your community.”

Referencing the cost figures received by the school board on Sept. 9, Hollowell said it would cost approximately $46 million to build a new school and approximately $39 to do the renovation on the current site.

“If you do the renovation you still have a 40-year-old building and you have two years of construction while you’ve got learning going on,” Hollowell said.

Though not noted at the meeting, the 37 acres between Stagecoach Road and Carriage Lane was purchased by the school system in 2018 for $1.85 million.

The board members were asked about the fate of the current site if the school was built on the new property.

Hollowell said there are considerations for use at the existing campus, though he could not elaborate.

“Hopefully, it will be refurbished for educational purposes,” Marchman said.

“For people who live around that area, we’re going to be a good neighbor,” Hollowell added.

Though not mentioned at the Sept. 10 parents meeting, a presentation to the school board at the Sept. 9 work session was more comprehensive than what was relayed by Hollowell in terms of the existing Booth.

As presented to the school board, the latest figures showed that Option 1 (keeping Booth where it is now), would include what was termed a complete “transformation” of the existing school. The project carried an estimated cost of nearly $40 million, though approximately $7 million in capital outlay reimbursements could be received from the state.

“You wouldn’t even know this had been Booth. Option 1 would leave only the steel and concrete. (The school) would be good for another 40 years,” said Facilities Director Mile Satterfield said.

Hollowell in a subsequent question at the Sept. 10 meeting confirmed that current Booth site is eligible for approximately $7 million from the state for upgrading due to its age.

Following another question, the board members were asked if the stated cost included the upgrading of Stagecoach Road and Carriage Lane from their current condition as small dead-end streets.

“One thing we’re hoping in the consideration of the property is that maybe there will be some development that will take the road all the way to Ebenezer Church Road,” Marchman said. “Maybe there will be a means to pave the road all the way to Stagecoach and we won’t have to fit the bill. Those are questions we’re still trying to figure out.”

A follow-up question from Hudson Pope, a Stagecoach Road/Carriage Lane resident, dealt with the increased traffic that would come if the school was built there.

“It’s a real concern for the community – 1,500 kids and the traffic and a couple of two-lane roads. The infrastructure is poor. And is the state aware of that? Is the city aware of that? Is the school district aware of that? How do you get that ship righted? And do you make a decision to go forward with the school before that’s crystal clear?” he asked.

Hollowell responded, saying, “We understand that for the folks that live along Carriage Lane this would be disruptive. But we think we’ll be able to work with the state on the traffic flow. We think we’ll be able to address some of the traffic concerns, working with the state and working with the local municipality.”

Hollowell was then asked if the school board will commit to building the new school before they know those answers. “Or do we create a problem and then figure out how to solve it,” the questioner asked.

“This is part of a process,” Hollowell responded. “We don’t control what the state’s going to do.”

Attempting to clarify the issue, Brown asked if the school board has to have a conversation with the city since the two streets in question belong to Peachtree City.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, you have those conversations before you announce that you’re going to build the school?” Brown queried.

“I want to understand the full cost of the project to the taxpayers before we pull the trigger,” Marchman said, entering the conversation. “We have this land available to possibly build a middle school. And if we don’t build a middle school, something might be built there later.”

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