Thursday, September 15, 2022

Oconee County Schools Releases Site Plans, Renditions For New Instructional Support Center Plus Proposed Redistricting Maps

***New Building To Reflect Design Of 1902 High School***

Oconee County School administrators released to the Board of Education and to the public on Monday site plans and architectural details of the new Instructional Support Center to be built on the 6.7-acre property the Board owns on North Main Street in Watkinsville.

Fred Ricketson, Director of Facilities for Oconee County Schools, told the members of the Board of Education at their work session that he expects Oconee County Schools to issue a request for proposals for the Instructional Support Center in late January or early February.

Construction is expected to start in the spring of 2023, Ricketson said, and be completed in June of 2024.

At its retreat in January, Brock Toole, Chief Operations Officer for Oconee County Schools, told the Board the current estimate of the project is $12.7 million, up from the 2019 estimate of $8.3 million. No new estimate was offered on Monday.

While discussion of the new Instructional Support Center played a prominent role in the meeting on Monday, the Board also received updates on other construction projects and voted to spend just less than $4 million on a contract for modifications at Oconee County Primary School, Oconee County Elementary School, and Oconee County High School.

Brook Whitmire, Chief Human Resources Officer for Oconee County Schools, also presented to the Board a redistricting plan for the system that reflects the opening of the third middle school next summer and adjustments to the lines for some of the feeder schools.

Attendance lines for Oconee County Middle School, Colham Ferry Elementary School, Rocky Branch Elementary School, Oconee County High School, and North Oconee County High School are unchanged.

Instructional Support Center Details

The site plans and renditions show a two-story Instructional Support Center building with a sloping roof facing North Main Street north of Bethel Baptist Church.

Site Plans Instructional Support Center (Click To Enlarge)

Ricketson said the building will have 36,060 square feet of space on the two stories and include 7,300 square feet of unfinished space for expansion in the attic.

It also will have 116 parking spaces, Ricketson said.

The site plan shows two additional future buildings, one behind the Instructional Support Center and one to its north. The footprint for each is 12,000 square feet.

Ricketson gave no indication what might be built on these sites, the time line for their construction, or the purpose to which they might be put.

Aerial View Site Of Instructional Support Center 
(Outlined In Blue) From Tax Records (Click To Enlarge)

“We will be submitting to the city of Watkinsville this month to begin the permitting processes, Ricketson said.

The site is entirely within the city limits of Watkinsville, which makes its own zoning decision.

The site is currently wooded and undeveloped.


Ricketson presented to the Board two renditions of the Instructional Support Center, one showing the front of the building and the other showing one side and the rear of the building.

Front View Instructional Support Center

Prominent in the renditions are six columns supporting a roof extension at the front the building, two pairs of chimneys on either side of the building, and a cupola.

“The design of this proposed Instructional Support Center for our growing school system features a timeless and traditional design featuring red brick and columns,” Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, Director of Communications, told the Board even before Ricketson showed the renditions.

“Decorative smoke stacks and chimneys were included in the design to honor the original Oconee High School,” she said. “When it was built in 1902, the school was heated with pot belly, coal burning stoves.”

“The copula on the new design represents the copula that was on the original Oconee High School Building,” she said. “When the building was reconstructed after the 1954 fire, the copula was not added back.”

“However, the proposed ISC design includes elements from the original 1902 design to honor our history while new elements of the proposed design for ISC point us towards the future,” she said.

The cupola was not shown in a version of the Instructional Support Center released to the Board in January.

Use Of Space

The original reconstructed Oconee County High School is now owned by Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation and sits next door the Superintendent’s Office at 34 School Street in Watkinsville.

Side And Rear View Instructional Support Center

Jimenez said that 34 employees currently occupy the 35 offices in the Superintendent’s Office building plus the two School Street buildings under the control of the school system and it two portable buildings on the site.

Another 85 central office employees have offices in other locations throughout the school system, she said.

The Board Room in the Superintendent’s office seats 50 individuals, according to Jimenez.

The design of the Instructional Support Center includes 66 offices, including the Superintendent’s Office, Jimenez said, and a Board Room that will seat 118.

Also to be located in the new facility will be the associate superintendent and the offices of Teaching and Learning, Student Services, School Nutrition, Communications, Business Services, Operations, and Human Resources

The opening of the Instructional Support Center will allow technology staff to be housed in the three buildings on the School Street campus: the Superintendent’s Office, the Teaching and Learning Office, and the Office of Business Services, Jimenez said.

Malcom Bridge Elementary School

Ricketson also told the Board “We’ve begun preliminary design work for the additional at Malcom Bridge Elementary School.”

Ricketson Before Board 9/12/2022
Screen Shot

This will be a 12-classroom addition, Ricketson said, and will increase the capacity of the school to 750 students.

Ricketson said the plan is to start construction on this project in the Spring of 2023 as well. This is a year ahead of the original plans for this project, according to the schedule shown to the Board in January.

The estimated cost given the Board back in January was $6.1 million. The original cost in 2019 had been $3.1 million.

The funding for the Malcom Bridge Elementary School addition, as well as for the Instructional Support Center, will come from the Education Local Option Sales Tax that will go into effect at the first of next year.

OCS also plans to seek supplemental funding from the state for the Malcom Bridge Elementary School addition.

Oconee County Primary, Elementary, High School

The Board accepted a contract on Monday for $3,974,000 to Bowen & Watson Construction Company of Toccoa for modifications at Oconee County Primary, Oconee County Elementary, and Oconee County High schools.

New Entrances
Oconee Elementary, Primary Schools

Bowen & Watson was the low of three bidders for the project.

Ricketson told the Board that the work includes reroofing the flat areas of the Primary School and Elementary School and the flat area of the horseshoe at Oconee County High School.

“We’re also doing as needed repairs to the metal roofs at all three facilities,” Ricketson said, “and will be adding new facades at Oconee Primary and Oconee Elementary.”

Also included is a new freezer/cooler at Oconee Primary School, new air conditioning units in the 600 building at Oconee Elementary School, and a new monument sign for Oconee Elementary School, Ricketson said.

The estimated total project cost, which includes furniture, technology, and other items, is $4,633,970, Chief Operations Officer Toole said. This project will be funded with from the General Fund and ELOST dollars, Toole added.

Human Resources Report

Oconee County Schools has enrolled 8,462 students in grades K-12 this year, Brook Whitmire, Chief Human Resources Officer, told the Board at the meeting on Monday.

Whitmire said that number represented “just under 1 percent growth from last year.”

On Oct. 5 of last year, based on the official report to the Georgia Department of Education, Oconee County Schools counted 8,343 students in K-12, plus 80 students in Pre-K, or 8,423 students total.

Whitmire said Oconee County Schools had added 78 new teachers, up from 45 a year ago. Most of those were replacement hires, he said.

Forty of those teachers are at the elementary level, 10 are at the middle school level, and 28 are at the high school level, he said.

Forty-five of those teachers have six or more years of experience, he said.

Of those hired with experience, 19 came from Gwinnett County, 13 came from Barrow County, and 10 came from Clarke County, Whitmire reported.

Redistricting Schedule

Whitmire then shifted to redistricting, saying that he was offering new district maps, and “Over the next couple of months we will ask for and receive community input. Anybody who wants to provide the input is welcome to.”

Draft Middle School Districts

An overview of the redistricting plans is on the Oconee County Schools web site.

It is possible to offer comments at that site, to download each of the maps, and to search addresses to determine with certainty where the district lines fall.

Oconee County Schools will hold a “Listening Session” on the proposed maps at 6 p.m. on Oct. 11 at North Oconee High School.

The Board of Education will take up the maps again on Nov. 7, Whitmire said.

The Board will take final action on Nov. 14, he said.

Redistricting Features

Whitmire said the maps were drawn to reflect the goal that each elementary school has a maximum of 750 students, each middle school has a maximum capacity of 1,000, and each high school has a maximum capacity of 1,500.

Draft Elementary School Districts 

“The priority obviously when you build a new middle school is to populate that middle school,” Whitmire said.

At present, the boundaries for the system’s two middle schools and two high schools are the same.

“Dove Creek Middle School splits what is the current Malcom Bridge Middle School zone,” he said.

Attendance lines for Oconee County Middle School are unchanged, he said.

The High School districts lines also remain unchanged, he said.

Also unchanged are the zone lines for Colham Ferry Elementary School and for Rocky Branch Elementary School, according to Whitmire.

Changes will be made in the zone lines for all of the other elementary schools and the system’s sole primary school, Whitmire said.

Some of the students at the new Dove Creek Elementary School are going to be switched to Malcom Bridge Elementary, he noted.

Summary Assessment

Whitmire said it should be seven or eight years before Oconee County Schools needs to address redistricting again.

Existing Elementary School Districts

Enrollment at the two middle schools at present is 1,999, he said.

According to the official Oct. 5 count of last year filed with the Georgia Department of Education, Malcom Bridge had 1,046 students, and Oconee Middle School had 941.

In the March 4, 2022, official counts filed with the Georgia Department of Education, Malcom Bridge had 1,043 students, and Oconee County Middle School had 916.

“So we are exactly at that place where we are now going to be able, with the new middle school, to create some more room.,” Whitmire said. “And also do the things that we mentioned at the elementary school level.”

Whitmire said that 92 percent of the system’s students “are not affected by this proposal.”

“There are no existing neighborhoods that are split in any of these proposals,” he said.

And no elementary schools are split as they feed to the middle schools, he said.

Historical Report

Superintendent Jason Branch, in his report at the very beginning of the meeting on Monday, teased to the subsequent report on details of the Instructional Support Center.

“Finally, we’re excited to share a presentation and conversations tonight both honoring our past and assisting in planning for our future,” he said.

He then asked Communications Director Jimenez to “provide a historical perspective on our School Street Campus, which is what we call our current central office location.”

“Early records show that in 1895 there were 2,398 students who lived in Oconee County who attended a total of 50 different schools, none of which were part of a county Board of Education,” Jimenez said.

Consolidation took place across time, and, while Jimenez made no mention of desegregation in her presentation, the racially separate school systems merged only in 1969.

The first Oconee County High School was built in 1902, Jimenez said.

That building burned down in 1954 because of a lightning strike, Jimenez said.

That building was rebuilt at some later date, minus the copula, and was sold to the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation in 2001 for $1, Jimenez said.

School Street Campus

The Oconee County High School moved to what is now the Oconee County Middle School building in 1956, Jimenez reported.

Click To Enlarge

Bogart High School consolidated with Oconee County High School in 1956 and 1957, she said.

Jimenez made no mention of it, but the segregated E.D. Stroud School offered grades 1 through 12, and those high school students moved to Oconee County High School in 1969.

The Oconee County High School building on its present site was built in 1992, Jimenez said.

The Stroud School, built in 1960 in an attempt to head off desegregation by improving the facilities of schools for African-American students, was renamed Colham Ferry Elementary School in 1996.

Jimenez said the current Superintendent Office was built circa 1932 as Watkinsville Academy, Rocket Hall was built in 1933, the Teaching and Learning/Communications Building was built circa 1952, and the Business Services/Student Services Building was built circa 1960.

“The Board Office has been on the 34 School Street campus since circa 1980,” Jimenez said, “and for the 40 years prior the Board of Education operated in the basement of the Courthouse.”

“That was a really good presentation,” Board Member Tim Burgess said to Jimenez when she finished. “I especially appreciate your comments about how the design of the new building recognizes and sort of honors traditions and the history of our past. So well done.”

Property Purchase

In 2009, the Board purchased the 6.67 acres on North Main Street just beyond that road’s intersection with Experiment Station Road for $900,000 from Charles and David Williams, for a future administrative building.

Bus Lot Ray's Church Road From Tax Records

According to the tax records, the property was valued at $632,844 at the time it was purchased for $900,000. Its assessed value on the tax records two years later was $721,524, and its assessed value for 2022 is $752,195.

David Williams had been a member or the Board of Education but was no longer a member when the Board purchased the property.

In 1996, Oconee County Schools purchased two parcels on Ray’s Church Road totaling just less than 30 acres for $140,094, also for a future administrative building.

In 2009, according to county tax records, a building used with the bus barn and storage lot was located on a small part of that acreage. Most of the land remains unused.

The property is centrally just south of Hog Mountain Road, which connects many of the county’s schools.

At the meeting on Monday, Operations Manager Toole reported that Oconee County Schools now has 72 bus routes and probably will need to add eight or more new routes when Dove Creek Middle School opens next year.

On Monday, Toole said he had 66 drivers and was in need of hiring six more.

Kemp Campaign Appearance At Dove Creek

Also as part of his Superintendent’s Report, Branch gave an update on the campaign stop of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Sen. Burt Jones, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, to Dove Creek Elementary School earlier that day.

“We always welcome elected officials when they seek out an opportunity to see the good work that is taking place,” Branch said, “and I want to thank Grace and the teachers and staff at Dove Creek and the staff from our Central Office that worked to support that visit.” Grace Staniszewski is principal at Dove Creek Elementary School.

“And I think it was a wonderful visit and we got to show off the great things that are taking place in our schools and more importantly our students,” Branch said.

Media access to the event was controlled by Kemp’s campaign staff. Public access also seems to have been by limited notification. I did not receive any notification and did not attend.

I asked Oconee County Schools Director of Communications Jimenez for details of the event after I learned about it from a report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution” on Tuesday.

Report On Event

“As you mentioned below, Gov. Kemp visited Dove Creek Elementary School on Monday,” Jimenez replied to my email.

“He, along with family members and other dignitaries, toured several classrooms. After that, Gov. Kemp provided remarks on his K-12 educational priorities. For details, please reach out to his press team. You are welcome to use the photo collage on our web site.”

Collage Of Pictures From Gov. Kemp 9 /12/22 Visit
To Dove Creek Elementary (Credit: Oconee County Schools)

According to the report in the Journal-Constitution, Kemp “outlined a second-term education agenda” and committed an additional $65 million to address learning loss from the pandemic, to recruit more counselors, and to help school staffers become regular teachers.

A similar account is on page A-5 of the Sept. 15 edition of The Oconee Enterprise.

According to the Journal-Constitution report, Julie Mauck, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Party nomination for one of the open School Board Posts, challenged Kemp’s request for additional funding for counselors.

“One of the things that parents have been screaming over the past couple of years is that our schools don’t belong in the mental health or the health clinic business and we’re just seeing that unfold before our very eyes with you as governor,” Mauck said, “and to me, it’s overreach. To most Republicans, it’s overreach.”

I confirmed the quote with Mauck, who is Chair of Moms for Liberty of Oconee County.

The picture collage appears in the rotator on the home page of Oconee County Schools and in a modified version on the home page of Dove Creek Elementary School.

It shows that all five Board members as well as Branch were at the event.


The of the Sept. 12 meeting of the Board of Education is on the Oconee County Schools YouTube Channel.

Oconee County Schools will not allow me to embed the video on this web site, but it is possible to reach the video easily by following the link in the message below.

Superintendent Branch begins his report to the Board at 3:11 in the video.

Jimenez began her historical presentation on the School Street Campus at 3:31 in the video.

Brock Toole made his comments beginning at 23:06 in the video.

Ricketson is at 23:58 in the video.

Whitmire’s comments begin at 35:32 in the video.


Dan Magee said...

"Instructional Support Center"...??? Guess that's what a Board of Ed/Central Admin Office building is called in an Orwellian universe...and Gwinnett

Athens/Clarke County - Clarke County School District Office
Barrow - Central Office
Jefferson - Central Office / Office of the Superintendent
Walton - Board of Education Office
Gwinnett - J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Support Center
Oglethorpe - Oglethorpe County Board of Education
Jackson - Jackson County Board of Education
Morgan County - Morgan County Board of Education


"...Brock Toole, Chief Operations Officer for Oconee County Schools, told the Board the current estimate of the project is $12.7 million, up from the 2019 estimate of $8.3 million."

Fifty percent increase in the cost just three years...???

Dave Henson said...

Beautiful new building. I love the history-minded thought put into it. Only change would be to move it closer to the road, like the new bank building, in order to better connect / interlock with a more walkable Watkinsville in the future.

Dave Henson