DeKalb County School officials say the cost to fix its older schools is a major factor in which buildings will be closed – and how SPLOST 4 funds will be spent if voters approve the measure in mid 2012.
To develop a school closure list and make redistricting recommendations for the coming school year, DeKalb County school officials are conducting facility assessments at each of its 125 schools and 18 centers.
DeKalb is the third-largest school district in the state, but it has more buildings than any other. And in those buildings there are 11,000 vacant student seats that keep the county from receiving its full share of state entitlement funds.
Many of those schools are older with high maintenance costs, like Clarkston High School which is being renovated.
The school built in 1964 was assessed on Nov. 3 – many things were found to be sufficient, but others were inadequate.
John Storey of MGT of America, the company contracted by the county to do the facilities assessments, is one of a team of five assessors. He told a group of Clarkston High parents and staff who joined him at the school that facility assessments gauge two things.
“We’re looking for educational adequacy. First I’ll be answering the question of how well this facility supports the programs you provide and secondly, how it measures up to modern facilities,” Storey said.
The group began in the school cafeteria, which serves more than 80 percent of its 1,073 student body free or reduced lunch.
In the cafeteria Storey found a lack of storage for tables, chairs and janitorial equipment. However with an abundance of natural light and ample square footage he scored the cafeteria as adequate.
However, the kitchen was inadequate, Storey said.
At first sight, Storey said the kitchen square footage was too small. In addition to that there were several other spacing problems, including clutter caused by two broken ovens and a dishwasher, a lack of supply storage and the food service manager’s closet-sized office.
The distance between cafeteria serving bays and the kitchen cooking area was too great, he said.
“There is too much distance between where the food is cooked and delivered to serve. You have to walk too far with hot food, and that’s never good,” Storey said.
Next on the list were bathrooms.
For Storey, the school’s six boys restrooms struck a good balance between privacy and security – ultimately only needing a facelift to increase the ratio of toilets and urinals to sinks.
However the girl’s restrooms barely made the cut.
“The ceiling needs to be updated, the walls painted and new fixtures. It’s not easily wheelchair accessible. It’s right on the border of inadequate,” Storey told the group.
After that, the group visited the school’s severe and profound intellectual disabilities classroom, where some students must be diapered and sometimes fed.
Not designed for its current use, Storey said the class did not have adequate storage space, is in need of a larger doorway, is 150 square feet too small and is in need of a private bathroom and partial kitchen.
Walking beside Storey, Clarkston principal Michelle Jones welcomed his findings.
“I think this will reveal a whole lot. By going into each classroom, down each hallway, we’ll get the full picture,” Jones said.
Throughout the school Storey had other areas of concern, including a lack of accessible electrical outlets, blind spots in hallways and dated locker rooms.
“This increases your supervisory burden,” he said regarding one ninth grade administrator who had no line of sight down his hallway, and had pulled a desk outside his office to supervise students as the bell rang.
“In many newer schools you have a fish bowl office space, where administrators can see out onto the hallway without leaving their desks,” Storey said.
But in his final analysis, Storey scored the school as ‘adequate’, considering that it’s under construction.
“Because it’s in a transitional phase, I have to be a little flexible with my assessment. Some of what I see today will change in the coming months – and much more by the summer,” said Storey, who has completed 17 facility assessments for the county since mid October.
“My general impression is the school doesn’t feel institutional, as if there is nothing on the wall or all the walls painted the same drab color. There are trophies, artwork, photographs and posters. The educational environment is OK.”
The construction at Clarkston High will include a new 32,000 square foot building with an auditorium and classrooms. The school’s HVAC system, fire alarms, ceilings and lighting will also be upgraded.
School officials said the construction will be completed by June 2011.
DeKalb will conduct facility assessments at its schools and buildings through Nov. 19.