Members of the Watkinsville City Council said last week that they liked the design of the proposed Oconee County Schools Instructional Support Center and were delighted with the decision to build it on North Main Street inside the city limits.
Three of the five-member Council said they did object to the amounts of proposed parking planned for the front of the building and one of them wanted to alter the entrances off Main Street.
Council Member Brett Thomas said specifically he wanted to reduce by half the 27 parking spaces proposed for the front of the building.
Mayor Brian Brodrick said at the beginning of the session that the goal was simply to provide feedback to Oconee County Schools prior to it submitting the formal plans needed to move forward with construction plans.
Dallas LeDuff, Associate Superintendent of Oconee County Schools, thanked the Council members for their comments, but he gave no indication that the plans would be changed before they are submitted.
He said the entrances as proposed are needed for security and that the parking spaces, while not needed at present, will be required in the future to accommodate “future growth.”
The Board of Education, in its regular meeting last week, accepted without comment seven financial reports from Chief Financial Office Liz Harlow.
Harlow reported, among other things, that Education Local Option Sales Tax collections continue to run ahead of a year ago. Collections for the most recent month–August–were up 15.2 percent from August of 2021.
Watkinsville Council Presentation
Jeff Robinson, with Cunningham Forehand Matthews & Moore Architects of Atlanta, told the Council at its regular meeting on Oct. 19 that the new Instructional Support Center “honors” the old High School with the inclusion of chimneys and a cupola but also is “forward facing” to welcome people inside.
|Concept Plan Presented To Watkinsville Council|
10/19/2022 (Click To Enlarge)
Those design elements were prominent in the presentation of the plans to the Board of Education in September.
Robinson said the 43,360-square-foot building will contain 66 offices and a Board Room to seat 118. It also will allow for future growth, he said.
Joe Moon, of Breedlove Land Planning, 1020 Old Bishop Road, followed Robinson and said that “the majority of the parking is provided in the rear of the building with a small amount of parking in the front for visitors.”
“We revised the layout the early part of this week to create more green space to provide a more welcoming appearance,” he added.
Robinson and Moon were joined at the meeting by Associate Superintendent LeDuff and Fred Ricketson, Director of Facilities for Oconee County Schools.
Mayor Brodrick said Oconee County Schools was following normal practice in presenting its concept plan.
What this practice “allows us to do," he said, "is provide feedback to somebody who wants to do a new building or new community in Watkinsville before their designs are hard coded and they’ve gone through the trouble of creating construction documents and all the work.”
Brodrick told the Oconee County Schools team that the Council is “excited that you all have chosen to build in Watkinsville.”
“We feel that the School Board belongs in the county seat and the facility belongs in the county seat,” Brodrick said.
“Personally, I’m a fan of your architecture and the commitment that you’ve made to a high quality institutional building,” he said.
“We need to build buildings that stand the test of time and that we’ll be proud of not just five years from now, but 40 years from now, 50 years from now,” he added.
The Instructional Support Center is to be built on the 6.7-acre property the Board owns on North Main Street, just north of Experiment Station Road and Bethel Baptist Church.
“I want to echo the mayor,” Thomas said. “I’m super glad to have this project in Watkinsville.”
“I do have a couple of concerns,” Thomas continued. “Mainly the parking. I do have our ordinance pulled up, specifically discussing parking. Chapter 8, section 3a. Parking lots shall be located to the rear of buildings.”
Thomas said he wants the parking to be similar to the Courthouse “with just a single row of parking in the front and adding more green space up there.”
“It is a shall, not a should,” Thomas said of the ordinance. “So we’re going to have to work through that.”
“I also see that you’ve got two-way streets in there,” Thomas continued. “I think it would be more beneficial to have a one-way in, one way out, especially if we do limit it to a singular row of parking. You come in and you come back out a separate way.”
More Council Responses
“You’ve pretty much said what I was going to say,” Council Member Christine Tucker said. “I agree.”
“I would say I am willing to compromise,” she continued. “Instead of saying absolutely no parking at the front to instead have it be something similar to the Courthouse where it is more meaningful green space.”
"At present, there are 27 parking spots,” Thomas said. “I’m asking you to reduce it to 13, round numbers.”
“I would echo what the other Council members have said in terms of the parking,” Council Member Jeff Campbell said.
“I think resembling the Courthouse makes sense,” Campbell continued.
“I do like the design of the building,” he continued. “Good thought in terms of the chimneys and the cupola.”
“I love the fact it’s going to stay in downtown Watkinsville,” Campbell added.
“So two kind of main things relevant to your comments were what we’re trying to do in terms of the community is ease of access and having a forward facing, welcoming building,” LeDuff said.
|Instructional Support Center Rendition|
“The other thing we had in mind is safety and security,” LeDuff said. “So, as you are aware, all of our school campuses have parking in the front.”
“So what we also try to do is have a single access point of entry for safety and security reasons,” he continued. “That’s where the check in of guests will be.”
“So that’s why it was important for us to have those parking spaces in front,” LeDuff said. “You know we do have several visitors from time to time now but we’re also thinking about our future growth and the amount of traffic that we might have as we continue to grow.”
“Thank you again for all of your comments and time reviewing our plan,” LeDuff said in ending his comments.
Robinson said Oconee County Schools expects to issue bids for construction of the Instructional Support Center early in 2023 and anticipates completing construction in 15 months, or in the summer of 2024.
LeDuff said Oconee County Schools will continue to occupy the 34 School Street property. Technology Services will be housed at that facility, he said.
Regular Board Meeting
The regular meeting of the Board on Oct. 17 was occupied mostly with recognitions and a presentation by Keith Carter, North Oconee High School Principal, and Daniel Smallword, a student of the school, about activities at the school.
Following the North Oconee High School presentation, Harlow read off the title of each of her reports, which produced no response from the Board.
Harlow summarized the Educational Local Options Sales Tax (ELOST) report by noting that across the last 14 months collections are averaging 13.5 percent more than a year earlier.
In a separate report, Harlow showed that the collections from the tax referendum already have exceeded the estimates, with four more months of collections yet to go before it expires at the end of the year.
The August collection was $906,343, up from $864,287 in July and from $787,791 in August of 2021.
Oconee County Schools has $12.8 million in its current ELOST account and upcoming bond payments this year of $6.1 million. Those payments will be the final ones against the $25.9 million in bond indebtedness.
Harlow also told that Board in her Cash Balance Report that the General Fund Operating Account had $32.0 million as of Sept. 30, down from $34.1 million in August.
The Budget Report for September showed that Oconee County Schools has received almost no ad valorem taxes so far this year, but it has received a quarter of its Quality Basic Education state funds already this year.
No member of the public spoke at the regular meeting, the only meeting at which the Board allows public comment.
The Board on Monday also voted to approve a revised policy for Public Participation in Board Meetings.
The policy has been changed to reflect the requirements within Senate Bill 588, passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in April.
The Bill requires that all meetings of local Boards of Education shall be open to the public except as otherwise provided by law.
It also stipulated that members of the public shall not be removed from such public meetings except for actual disruption and in accordance with rules adopted and published by the local Board of Education.
The Board also approved the purchase of six 84-passenger buses from Peach State Freightliner in Jefferson for a total cost of $971,666.
Peach State will deliver four of the buses in March of 2023 at a cost of $158,989 each and two in August of 2023 at a cost of $167,855 each, Ricketson said.
The video of the Watkinsville City Council meeting of Oct. 19 is available from this LINK.
Discussion of the Instructional Support Center starts at 19:31 in the video.
While Oconee County School video records its meetings, it will not allow use of the video on another web site.
It is possible to get to the Oconee County Schools YouTube channel via the link below.
Harlow gave her report at 16:42 in the video.