The district expects to collect roughly $717.8 million in sales tax between Jan. 1, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2018, to help pay for capital improvement projects. The board, which originally saw a draft of the project list in mid-September, will vote to put the referendum before voters next month. If approved, the sales tax would be up for a public vote in March.
The revised list on major projects includes a few $200,000 to $300,000 tweaks, four projects that were not on the original list increasing costs by around $39.7 million and the elimination of one of two career academies valued at $29.9 million each.
The additions include building an east Cobb area replacement middle school valued at $30.2 million, a new $3.3 million wing at Kincaid Elementary in Marietta, $3.1 million in interior renovations at Tapp Middle in Powder Springs and the addition of 10 new classrooms at Teasley Elementary in Smyrna coming in at $3.1 million.
Another big change in the revised list is the $13.7 million increase in costs for updates to Walton High in east Cobb. It includes the district building a new fine arts facility with a theater and a new gym.
Chris Ragsdale, Cobb’s deputy superintendent of operations, said after the meeting that additional costs for Walton improvements were introduced after the school’s foundation hired an architect to come in and determine how to identify locations on their 40-plus acre piece of property, which is considered small for a high school campus serving more than 2,000 students, for new facilities.
He also said additional funding came from the district getting rid of one of the two proposed career academies.
Alison Bartlett, who represents west-central Cobb and is the board’s liaison on the SPLOST oversight committee, asked for more information on where the three replacement elementary schools would be located and asked if modifications regarding concessions at athletic facilities could be rewritten to represent Americans with Disabilities Act requirements so that voters understood they were voting on bringing facilities up to code, not rebuilding a concession stand.
Ragsdale said he would look into the wording of the concessions repairs and said district staff were reluctant to identify exact locations for replacement elementary schools.
“Naming verses not naming gives the board more flexibility,” he explained. “If we said we wanted to replace Brumby Elementary School, we would have to build a new Brumby Elementary School. There would be no option not to build. This concept gives the board more flexibility in identifying the greatest area of need later on.”
North Cobb’s representative Kathleen Angelucci said when speaking to school communities that the biggest issue continues to be “health and safety” in the schools.
She gave the example of Blackwell Elementary School needing to resolve traffic problems.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” she said. “I don’t see it here (in the notebook).”
Angelucci said that for her, the pick-up and drop-off problems at Blackwell are more important than installing 38 new playgrounds at elementary schools for $85,000 each.
Ragsdale explained that they are bringing the playgrounds up to code and are on a replacement schedule.
“When the public thinks of SPLOST, they think of capital projects, they think of our buildings and the amount of things that need to be done within our buildings seem so massive so when you start talking about the replacement of playgrounds, it’s a little difficult when you’re comparing to things inside our buildings and that to me doesn’t represent what a Cobb County school should be,” she said.
Angelucci also said she continues to be worried about the need for a career academy rather than the district using existing facilities at local high schools.
“So far as a board, we’ve gotten anecdotal data,” she said. “We’ve gotten no supportive data, we’ve had no plan given to us to consider other than just a career academy. How much would it cost us extra in maintenance? How much would it cost us extra in transportation?
“The concept is awesome … but what we’re talking about is trying to look at this in another way because we do have to balance out offering those career pathways but also the stark realization that we have to pay for this. It’s not just paying for the building, but paying for transportation and maintenance as we move forward. That’s an extra cost to this district, and we would be remiss it not talking about that and discussing it as a whole before consider voting on this.”
Hinojosa said it would be “virtually impossible” for him to tell the board what would be in that facility but is excited to see it work out and would work with his staff to gather more details.
Tim Stultz said he would like to see what Hinojosa’s “vision” in with the academy.
“We’re responsible to this community,” Angelucci said. “If we’re going to present them with a SPLOST plan, they have to have more information.”
Bartlett chimed in saying, “Taxpayers are wanting more accountability for how we are spending. It’s the framework we’re asking for.”
The board will host another SPLOST IV informational meeting before the November vote but the date and time has not been set.
Marietta City Schools will also be included in SPLOST IV collections. They released a draft of their proposed project list during a meeting in early September.
The district expects to collect $53.3 million to go towards maintenance, such as $1.3 million to replace the roof at Marietta Middle School, paying off $15.2 million in debt, which includes $3 million for the Marietta High School auditorium, and $5.3 million to renovate Northcutt Stadium, including $630,000 for a synthetic turf football field.