Mayor Vanessa Fleisch tells the Fayette County Board of Education locating a new 1,400 student middle school on Stagecoach Road and Carriage Lane would overburden area roads —
The Peachtree City Council is on record now against a new J.C. Booth Middle School on the east side of the city.
The Sept. 25 public meeting called by the Fayette County Board of Education also came with a bombshell statement from Peachtree City that involves a pivotal aspect of the proposed project. It effectively pits the city government against the school board and the school system administration.
The statement read by Peachtree City Mayor Vanessa Fleisch opposed the location of the proposed new school. That will have a direct bearing on the proposed Stagecoach Road site for the Booth replacement school. The replacement school would be situated on the city’s far east side, between Carriage Lane off Ga. Highway 54 and Stagecoach Road off Robinson Road, approximately 500 feet from the intersection with Robinson and Hwy. 54.
The city’s statement was pivotal because it would be up to Peachtree City to supply the funds to improve Carriage Lane and Stagecoach Road, since both are city streets, and because the school system is prohibited from spending funds outside school system property. Improvements could also be required by the Ga. Department of Transportation at Carriage Lane and Hwy. 54 and at the intersection at Robinson and Hwy. 54.
“Please accept this letter as formal notice of our opposition to the Stagecoach Road/Carriage Lane location for the construction of a proposed new middle school. With very limited improvement options, this site will place an undue burden on the transportation network in the immediate vicinity. Based on our previous experience, traffic improvements can easily reach millions of dollars with limited impact on mobility within the corridor. No such funds are included in the current or future Peachtree City budgets. Further, we request that a comprehensive traffic study be conducted that incorporates the impact of the school, along with proposed new development in the area, before a final decision is made on the location of a new school,” Fleisch said.
By way of example, the city recently completed the re-vamping of the intersections at Planterra Way at Hwy. 54 and MacDuff Parkway at Hwy. 54. The work consisted of adding turn lanes on Planterra and MacDuff, both city streets.
The SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funded projects took 3-4 years to bring to fruition at a cost of approximately $1.6 million.
The second of two public hearings on building a replacement school for Booth Middle School in Peachtree City came with a mix of those in favor and those opposed.
In all, there were two dozen speakers at the public hearing, providing a mix of reasons to build the replacement school, or to forego the project or to do an upgrade at the existing Booth site. There was a wealth of comments both favoring and opposing the replacement school.
Carriage Lane resident Kelly Ranes in her remarks noted that her street has no curbs or gutters, no sewer, and no crosswalks or cart access.
In his brief remarks, city resident Cole Piper, a former Booth student, asked if the replacement school was “too much a waste of money.”
Also speaking was Kirsten Melom, a Booth parent who said she spoke for some of the school’s teachers and students. She said a large number of those with whom she spoke want the replacement school.
Melom added that she believed the traffic flow would be better at the Stagecoach location, noting that traffic at the current Booth site sometimes backs up almost to Walgreens (at Hwy. 54).
Hwy. 54 is approximately 2,000 feet from Booth Middle on South Peachtree Parkway. Stagecoach Road at its intersection with Robinson Road is approximately 500 feet from Hwy. 54.
Booth Principal Steve Greene also advocated for the replacement school, saying that the two-year construction that would come with a transformational re-build of Booth on the current site would be disruptive for student learning. That view was held by other speakers at the meeting.
Former longtime school board member Bob Todd presented an issue that rarely surfaces.
“I’m one of the 75 percent of taxpayers who doesn’t have a child in the school system. I’ve looked at the data and I can’t find much to support the need for a new school,” Todd said, adding that attendance lines could be tweaked if needed.
Also speaking against the replacement school was another longtime school board member, Marion Key, whose children attended Booth and whose grandchildren will attend Booth.
Given her family’s direct affiliation with Booth, Key said she should be advocating for a school with all the bells and whistles. Yet she said her conscience could not let her do that because there are 23 other schools in the system that have needs now or will have in the future.
Key said that in years past the goal was to make Booth equitable to the county’s other middle schools by making a number of improvements and at a cost of approximately $12 million. Today, the cost has morphed into nearly $50 million, she said.
“All those wants and wishes have creeped into the picture. The school board is not a genie in a lamp that grants wishes,” Key said.
The remarks of Key and Todd mirrored some of the comments made by school system ESPLOST (Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) co-chairman Neil Sullivan in a letter to the editor to The Citizen earlier in the week.
“The majority of nearly $40 million funding required for either of these projects will come from the recently approved ESPLOST,” Sullivan said. “However, when the (school board) came to the public to request ‘ESPLOST III,’ they did not ask for more than $40 million for a new middle school; instead they asked for $10 million to renovate the gym and cafeteria at Booth as part of an approximate $70 million pool for repairs and improvements to all of our schools.”
Sullivan noted that his letter was not about whether or not to build a new Booth is warranted or necessary. The intent of the letter was “to raise a concern about the transparency of the process and completeness of the information.”
“While some suggest there is urgency needed for this decision, nothing has changed since before the ESPLOST election either in the structure of the building, student population, or excellent educational results. The only measurable change is in the amount of money the (school board) has to spend, thanks to the ESPLOST,” Sullivan continued. “At the $10 million discussed, Booth would have been approximately 13 percent of the renovations budget. Now we are talking about more than 50 percent of the current renovations budget, and nearly 25 percent of the total expected ESPLOST collections. What projects at which schools will be cancelled to pay for this school?”
The school board in recent meetings has discussed two options for Booth. Option 1 is a “transformational” re-build at the current site at an estimated $40 million, presumably minus approximately $7 million available from the state, while Option 2 is a replacement school to be built off Hwy. 54 and Robinson Road that comes with a guaranteed maximum price of $46 million.
The school system expects to have answers to the questions posed at the meeting available on its website at www.fcboe.org later this week.