Inspire, Care, Support, and Lead:
Guiding Motives for Wheeler’s New K-12 School
“For many in the community, it may seem as if we’re just beginning this journey, but actually…we started this [process] in April of 2018,” Superintendent Suzanne Couey said in her address at the groundbreaking ceremony for Wheeler County’s new K-12 school on March 22. “When we started (this project) continued from page
our architects told us it would be about a five-year process, and that seemed like such a very long time. But we have three years behind us now, and we’re at the point where we can see it taking shape,” she said. Construction updates will be posted on the school’s website and Facebook page so that the community may “watch it take shape with us.”
Couey commended the Wheeler County Board of Education for “working together to achieve this milestone in our school district’s history. The length of the process is indicative of its importance to our community and to the great care that your Board of Education took in making sure that we got ‘the biggest bang for our buck.’” Provided in the ceremony’s program was a timeline of the board-approved budget: Preliminary Budget
(March 3, 2020) = $38,625,712 (total = $42,125,000) Check Set Estimate Budget (August 13, 2020) = $35,153,536 (total = $38, 500,000) Final Budget [GMP]
(November 24, 2020) = $32,834,744 (total = $36,000,000) State (GADOE) Contributions: $30,482,608
$5,517,392 “Every single vote taken by the Board on school design and budgeting was a unanimous decision,” Couey reported. “We’ve worked through several changes to arrive at a budget that we are confident we will be able to repay with SPLOST funds [special- purpose local option sales tax].” This source of funding is provided by the extra 1 cent sales tax that “was approved by over 90% of Wheeler County citizens.” With the state of Georgia funding 85% of the project and only 15% locally funded, “the final budget reflects a savings of over $6 million from the preliminary budget.” Couey described the new school as “a unique combination of beauty, safety, economy, and convenience that all Wheeler County students and staff will be proud to call home.”
Most especially, safety measures have been taken into account. The building will be strictly divided down the middle, the elementary school on one side and the middle-high schools on the opposite. The different schools have separate entryways with designated front office employees to monitor student traffic. In other words, “an elementary school student would have to go through the high school office to get to [the high school side],” Couey explained.
Other than on the buses, elementary students will never interact with middle or high school students. In contrast to the school’s current facilities, all buildings will be attached and everything enclosed, never requiring students to leave one building to get to another class. This does away with isolated spaces between buildings and as well as various fire hazards. In deciding on a contractor, the Superintendent, the Board, and facilities director Gregory Wilcher viewed other schools built by various construction companies.“Some were traditional and some were more modern. We all wanted something more traditional… something timeless,” Couey said. The established design plans reflect that desire for timelessness, as well as a thematic consideration of the county’s courthouse, and six Corinthian columns will stand at the school’s entrance. With portions of the middle-high school building dating back to 1957, and with the building in its entirety depending on the original plumbing and wiring, consequences of malfunction mid-school year would be utterly halting. When asked about a timeline as to when this process will come to full fruition, Couey said, “We were hoping to be in by fall of ’22, but it’s March [of ‘21]. With all the rain we’ve had and issues they’ve run into on the site, matters have been complicated and we’re running behind.”
In the construction crew’s site-preparation, they found the demolished foundation of the old high school, dating back to the early 1900s, which will have to excavated and removed— one of the unexpected contingencies that make the finish-line undefinable at present.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Leah Jones, the project manager with Altman and Barrett Architects, described the local motivation behind this new school: “The leadership of Wheeler County took on the challenge of providing a new, 21st century school for their students, because they believed the students in this community should have equal facilities as their peers across the state.”
Jones emphasized the leadership’s consistent student-centered focus: “This sentiment of doing what they need [to do] for the children was at the forefront of every single meeting… As someone who works across the state designing K-12 schools, I can honestly say this was refreshing to hear.”
Tim Lentile, a member of JCI/Lentile Construction Management team, praised the city of Alamo, the Little Ocmulgee Electric Membership Corporation, the Board, staff, and students for their support and cooperation through the growing pains of this project.“There are a lot of inconveniences…but we hope that the end product will show that it was all worth it,” Lentile said.
“Inspire, care, support, lead” are the guiding principles for the Wheeler County School System which are listed and further outlined in their website’s description of their mission, their vision. These principles are proving evident and fruitful under the system’s current leadership as this new facility takes shape.