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Newton board OKs excess SPLOST funds to complete center’s renovation
Board votes to use $400,000 for badly needed work on Washington Street's 70-year-old building
Newton County Historic Courthouse
The Historic Courthouse in Covington where the Newton County Board of Commissioners meets. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — Washington Street Community Center will see the completion of badly needed renovations to its aging facility after Newton County commissioners approved using $400,000 in excess SPLOST funds for the work.

The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Feb. 1 to approve the use of excess collections from the voter-approved 2017 SPLOST to replace parts of the electrical system and other badly needed projects to complete the renovation of the decades-old building.

Washington Street Community Center has operated since 1996 and offers a variety of after-school and other educational services for youth and families in the area, according to information from the organization.

Director Bea Jackson said the building has "good bones," and renovations can keep the building in operation another 20 years.

She said the additions planned for the building, such as the outdoor classroom and upgraded electrical system, will allow the nonprofit to offer more programs for its students.

In addition, she said the center also could be used to collaborate with area colleges for workforce training in the future.

"We want to be a part of making that possible for all the citizens of Newton County," she said. The building dates to the mid-1950s when it first served as a high school and, later, as an elementary school for Black students before integration of the school system in 1971.

Some small renovations have been done over the years but mostly with community volunteers, said Jeff Prine of Ascension Program Management.

The renovation project began in December. The $495,000 in SPLOST funding that originally was earmarked for the renovation project only funded items like design services, plumbing fixtures, initial electrical work, and a majority of a project to place more durable materials on the flat roof.

However, the funding allotted in the SPLOST funding list for the project proved inadequate to complete the work needed on the 70-year-old structure, officials said.

Prine said the electrical system is not up to code — a condition he said was "pretty dangerous.” 

In addition, the center's original renovation project uncovered additional roof leaks that were not anticipated, Prine said.

He said the project is "an opportunity to come in and fix the building" and "most importantly, to make it safe," he said.

The additional work is planned to include a $135,000 renovation of kitchen and replacement of kitchen equipment; a $145,000 replacement of fixtures, furniture and equipment throughout the facility; $50,000 for construction of an outdoor classroom; and $70,000 to upgrade and install electrical services into the building to give it a more “robust” system that will allow students to use more computers, he said.

County Finance Director Britney White said excess SPLOST collections are available. 

"As of December 2021 we are fully collected in the 2017 SPLOST with 19 months still left to collect," White said in a memo to commissioners. 

The county by law must share SPLOST collections with the municipalities within the county's borders. However, the county's portion of excess collections is approximately $21 million, White said. 

Prine said county officials are hoping to complete the project in time for spring break.