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NCSS to start $5 million negotiation with county

The Newton County School Board (BOE) has agreed to engage in financial negotiations with the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) that could eventually lead to the renovation and expansion of the Porter Hall Facility.

With the 5-0 vote at the BOE work session Tuesday night, a lawyer representing the Newton County School System (NCSS) and the county attorney will flesh out the terms of the intergovernmental agreement that will allow the BOC to make a $5 million donation to the Newton County School System (NCSS) to be used specially for this project.

However, this approval doesn’t mean the project is a go just yet. If the terms of the agreement aren’t approved by the BOE at a later meeting, presumably its first meeting in September, then the school district will forfeit the multi-million dollar donation, NCSS Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey told the board.

“Obviously time is of the essence, but you will have the opportunity to review the agreement and agree to those terms, said Fuhrey. “If you do not agree to the terms, then we will not be accepting the $5 million.”

Three plans to choose

Assuming the BOE accepts the money, which was generated by a county SPLOST, it will speed up the time scale on a project that was already planned by the school system. Mike Barr, director of support services for the NCSS, says the project has been discussed for years but was put on the back burner to wait to have the funds necessary to do a demolition and renovation of the facility.

“We now have the funds to do such a renovation,” said Barr. “This work was included in our long range building and financial planning which means the funds are availability to complete any of the options presented to you tonight.”
Barr presented the BOE with three options to choose from that will determine the scope of the “size and scope” of the project once an agreement is reached with the BOC.

The first option, A, will have the county only use the $5 million to renovate and expand the Porter Hall Facility, which is located at the Old Newton County High School. This will involve expanding the lobby area, putting in new, tile, adding new restrooms, a concession area, and more. The theater will get a facelift in the form of all-new seats, carpets, curtains, paint, lights and a working HVAC system. Dressing rooms and storage facilities would also be added.

If Option A is chosen, the total project would probably start in December and be completed by June 2016.

Option B will included everything in Option A, but it also include an extra $1.91 million from the NCSS to be used to demolish unused portions of the old Newton High school facility and install a parking lot and other landscaping at the site.

“As I mentioned earlier, this was included in our long range financial planning,” said Barr.

The timeline for completion would remain the same as well, with the demolition of the facility taking up until October 2016 to be completed, and the new parking lot would be finished in January 2017.

The final option, C, would also include everything in Option A, but the demolition portion of the project would be delayed.

Barr says this option will likely cost the school system $303,000 more that Option B.

Curriculum in facility

Shannon Buff, director of secondary schools for the NCSS, says with the completion of this project, it would allow the school district to incorporate an fine arts program into its S.T.E.M. program at the Newton College and Career Academy.
Some of the specific pathways the school system would consider are theater construction and set design, drama, dance, musical theater and others.

“We can’t start of them at once, obviously, but what our plan will be is to roll them out at once over the next few years,”  said Buff.

Also, the school system may look to develop an arts component into the curriculum at Porterdale Elementary School “given its proximity” to the facility, says Buff. Other elementary schools may eventually be able to incorporate the arts as well in the future.

“This renovation and expansion has the potential to provide our students with an opportunity they wouldn’t normally have at schools,” she said.