Calhoun City Schools will open the doors on its new $2.6 million central office on South Wall Street on Monday morning for a ribbon cutting and open house event, but workers were busy Friday planting landscaping and making other final touches when Superintendent Michele Taylor welcomed The Calhoun Times in for an early look around.

The building, roughly 10,000 square feet, was constructed using Education Special Purpose, Local Option Sales Tax and general funds. Robertson, Loia and Roof Architects designed the facility that replicates the original College Street School built in 1902. Momon Construction built the two-story structure.

“We were excited to be able to reconstruct the rock wall in front of the facility. Over time, it was not structurally sound, but Momon was able to utilize the existing rock and rebuild the wall. Hillhouse rock was also the gate way to the original College Street School as shown in many of the prints and photos of the old school building. We definitely wanted to honor the past while looking to the future to provide the best opportunities for our students and staff,” Taylor said.

The central office staff currently shares space with the system’s pre-K program in the old Eastside School building, a structure built in 1967 using an open floor plan. Over the years, partitions, shelving and temporary walls have divided the spaces; however, there hasn’t been a remedy for the lack of walls and doors to create safe spaces in the event of an emergency. Taylor also noted the noise level has been an issue for employees and for students in the shared space.

Moving the central office personnel to the new building is just one part of the overall plan, because the pre-K students will be moved temporarily to another building while the Eastside building is torn down and a mew Early Learning Academy is constructed.

“We’ve known we needed to address this facility for a while. Unfortunately, a simple renovation was going to be extremely costly due to building codes and issues that could not be overlooked. Another factor was the funding piece. Pre-K does not earn capital outlay funds so we had to be creative with our facilities plan to include kindergarten and wait until we had access to state capital outlay funds and ‘pay as you go’ SPLOST dollars,” Taylor explained. “This transition plan will also allow for enrollment growth at the primary and elementary campus. Many former students have fond memories or recollections of the Eastside building but there are also a lot of anecdotal concerns, more so today.”

While the building has been challenging for teachers and students, it’s also been a challenge to operate and provide services to faculty, staff and the general public. The central office has managed for decades without a place to call its own, but has made it work. Simple tasks like finding a meeting space or holding a confidential personnel conversation have been challenging.

“Try talking to insurance providers right next to 66 or more excited 4-year-olds or stumbling to your federal program director’s office during nap time where you literally turn on the light on your phone to tip toe and step over 22 sleeping toddlers to get to her office. While these examples may seem trivial, the bigger issue is school safety. We love our 2, 3 and 4-year-olds and bringing additional foot traffic, vendors and sometimes disgruntled individuals to the central office for business reasons is not in the best interest of students,” said Taylor. “Because of these issues and others, we knew we needed to separate the central office from the pre-K program. We are finding a way to make it happen sooner rather than later, so we can address the most pressing concerns and issues.”

Calhoun pre-K and Junior Jacket Academy will close out the school year in the Eastside building on Barrett Road and the 12 classes will relocate to the Primary and Elementary Complex facility on Raymond King Drive for the 2020-2022 school years as part of the long range facilities plan.

CCS is presently working with Architects Robertson, Loia and Roof to design an Early Learning Academy that will house the Junior Jacket Academy, pre-K and kindergarten. Funding for the project will come from state capital outlay funds, education SPLOST and the schools’ general fund.

The Calhoun Early Learning Academy will open at the Barrett Road site with 37 regular classroom spaces, a cafeteria, media center and gymnasium. Due to the structural issues and safety concerns of the Eastside building, Taylor said it would be more costly to renovate than to tear down, so demolition will begin as soon as the 2019-2020 school year is completed.

Adding 12 classrooms to the complex may seem to be a difficult task, but school leadership have identified how this can work as a temporary solution to keep the pre-k and pre-school students out of mobile buildings and in a safer environment, said Taylor.

“We plan to identify a wing at the complex for pre-K and keep students contained in their own area of the school. School start and end times will be staggered and students will have their own breakfast and lunch areas,” she said. “We recognize that this arrangement may need to be for a year and a half to two years depending on weather and other factors during the construction process. We’ll make it work, knowing that the end result will be a beautiful, safer facility, conducive to learning for all students and staff at CCS.”

The ribbon cutting and open house event is planned for Monday at 11 a.m.

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