As part of an ongoing joint effort between the school system and the county to give Macon County schools a face lift, the facilities review committee met last week to discuss continued improvements to schools throughout the district.
The joint effort, which began as a project to improve the infrastructure of Macon County through consolidations and renovations to schools, has allowed Macon County Commissioners and the Board of Education to work together for more than five years to offer the best education for children in the county.
The facilities review committee, which is comprised of two school board members, two county commissioners and additional members from both entities, works together to oversee the combined effort and projects throughout the school district.
County Manager Jack Horton began the meeting by giving the committee an update on the QZAB (Qualified Zone Academy Bonds) grant, which is intended to cover the costs of $1.5 million in renovations at Highlands School.
QZAB is a pocket of state monies that are designated for school maintenance and renovations to be payed back at little or no interest. The county utilized these funds when making needed renovations to East Franklin Elementary. The county began working on securing the $1.5 million in March. County Attorney Chester Jones sent a letter to the state last week and the county should know soon how much, if any, of the requested amount will be allocated to Macon County.
The $1.5 million will go toward renovations to the elementary wing at Highlands School, which was built in the 1950s and hasn't seen improvements since the ’80s. The renovation project will include new paint, upgrades to the interior and exterior doors, which will include making access to the building more secure, new tiles on the floors and a new intercom system.
“With the QZAB grant, we will not be changing the school's footprint, but instead will be doing some much needed renovations to the safety of the school,” said County Commissioner Chairman Kevin Corbin.
Horton informed the committee that the state has $40 million in QZAB monies to distribute and if it doesn't get used it gets sent back to the federal government, so he is optimistic that Macon County will receive approval for their grant request.
“This is work that needs or just has to be done, and is another step in the process to bring our schools to where they need to be,” said Commissioner Ronnie Beale.
Another large, much needed improvement that the county is assisting the school system on, is a complete upgrade to computers and the technology being used in the school system. As funding cuts have been passed down from federal and state pockets of money over the years,
Macon County has fallen from being on a five-year rotation for computers to currently being on a nine-year rotation.
Without upgrading a single computer in the last nine years, several computers in the district have either stopped working altogether or are too outdated to operate the software that is needed for classroom instruction.
During their August meeting commissioners approved securing a $1.5 million loan at an interest rate of 1.44 percent from BB&T to be used to upgrade the school system's technology. Ideally, the county plans to pay the loan off over two years, but signed on for a 54-month term.
During the facilities review committee meeting Interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan informed commissioners that the school systems technology director Tim Burrell planned to look at every computer lab in the county. Anything that is nine years old or older will be first, which should be about 130 computers at a cost of about $500 each. The next step in the process will be to ensure that there are enough computers to service all students in Macon County.
The focus of the implementation of the new computers will be to eliminate any computers in the district that are more than five years old because those units are not contributing to the education of Macon County students.