East Coweta High, Evans to undergo major renovation, expansion projects
by Rebecca Leftwich
Large-scale renovation, modification and expansion projects are in the works for East Coweta High School and Evans Middle School.
After taking an $8.3 million hit for Fiscal Year 2013, the Coweta system has had to make some tough decisions across the board so that instructional days, programs and positions can remain intact.
Concern over operational costs led the Coweta County Board of Education in October 2012 to scrap plans for construction of the proposed Corinth Road Middle School.
Instead, the school system will redirect funds from the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and state entitlement money – awarded to districts based on enrollment numbers – to fund additions, renovations and modifications to existing schools.
While Coweta Schools Superintendent Steve Barker said too many economic unknowns exist for Coweta County to confidently move forward with the new middle school’s construction, the school system will move ahead with a large-scale project at East Coweta High School that will include a major overhaul and the addition of 15 classrooms.
“We are trying hard to make responsible decisions,” Barker said. “These times call for a conservative approach to facilities and budgeting.”
A similar project at Newnan High School was completed in 2012.
East Coweta is the county’s most populated high school with more than 2,800 students currently on roll. Expected to take three years, the ECHS project already was scheduled for later in 2013 when the school board voted at a called meeting in February to alter plans to include additional classroom space.
“We’re not looking at class size or teacher-pupil ratio,” Barker said. “We’re looking at student movement patterns and the number of students trying to exist during the school day in that space.”
Insurance increases, austerity reductions and lack of state funding as well as unknown factors could further negatively impact the school system’s already strained budget, Barker said, and as the board plans for future growth it must carefully consider costs.
“As we talk about facilities and renovation, we can’t forget where we are in our operational budget,” Barker said. “The budget situation has constantly got to be at the front of our thoughts.”
Enrollment at East Coweta is projected to reach nearly 3,000 – maxing out the school’s capacity – in 2014. Barker recommended the board approve the addition of 15 instructional units “through repurposing and expansion” as part of the renovation and modification project. A new high school would cost an estimated $4.3 million to operate.
“We just don’t have the luxury to add facilities out of pure desire to add them,” Barker said. “We have to maximize our current facilities. We are using business and industry logic on this kind of project, keeping the fixed cost low, using and maximizing existing facilities and expanding our service delivery model.”
However, more classroom space will require more staff, Barker said.
“We will absolutely have to spend some money on personnel,” he said. “But even if we spent $1 million on personnel, it’s still a $3.3 million savings over new school costs.”
By adding classroom space and expanding off-campus learning opportunities such as dual enrollment, early graduation, offerings at the school system’s Central Educational Center in Newnan, virtual and work-based learning, Barker said the school system can effectively alleviate overcrowding at ECHS.
“We want to focus on getting all the mileage we can out of our facilities,” Barker said. “We are committed to conservatively approaching this from a budget standpoint in order to guarantee we are making the best decision. We have to ensure we offer the same level of service but not overreach and find ourselves financially unable to operate effectively.”
Increasingly, students from Coweta’s three base high schools – East Coweta, Newnan and Northgate – are taking some or all of their classes at CEC. Those students remain on high school rolls but are not physically present for at least part of the day, and managing their open seats can help alleviate overcrowding.
“Enrollment numbers are not taking anybody out for off-campus learning,” Barker said. “Projections are for people on roll, but they’re lower in terms of actual bodies on campus moving through.”
The school board also voted to demolish the original O.P. Evans Junior High School building at Evans Middle School – a 1970s structure designed with open plan architecture based on the one-room schoolhouse educational concept – and build a modern two-story structure on the site.
“[The main building] served us well for many years, but it is in serious need of repair and renovation,” Barker said. “It is more cost effective for us to tear it down and rebuild on that site.”
The project will not begin immediately, but board approval was necessary to add Evans to a five-year facility plan to be submitted to the state this spring.
Planning for the new facility will take place during the 2013-14 school year. Demolition will begin in May 2014, and the new facility is scheduled to open in fall 2015. Barker said students will attend classes on the Evans campus for the duration of the project, utilizing mobile classrooms and three existing buildings.
With construction of a new school off the table for now, Barker said the school board will “begin immediately” looking at addition models at Madras and Lee, the two county middle schools with the highest enrollment.
“Both are facilities that by design can have additions, so we will first look at that,” he said, adding that the school board intends to monitor enrollment projections throughout the school year to determine the best plan for adding instructional units.
Barker said the school system could begin the application process for state funds for expansion at the middle schools as early as next summer. Meanwhile, completion of a Corinth Road Middle School could be years – and a substantial upswing in both economy and student population – away.
“We may be building a middle school, if we see that degree of need,” said Barker. “At that point, the need would likely be combined with enrollment numbers which would increase funding for operational costs.”