continued from page ly see ….
continued from page
ly see some floor tiles that need replacing or other issues that will be addressed before final completion,” she told those assembled at the ceremony prior to a tour of the building.
Among those Couey praised for their tireless commitment to seeing the project through were members of the school board who she said, “expertly navigated the fine line between building the best possible school for our students and remaining fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of Wheeler County. They have been supportive of our staff and me throughout these five long years, and the building is a testament to their dedication to Wheeler County students and citizens.” She also thanked the citizens of Wheeler County who passed the SPLOST/Bond Referendum in March of 2019 with a 90.2% approval, the 2nd highest approval rate in the state, which allowed us to acquire finances for our portion of the construction costs.
“We were very fortunate with timing. Our application to the state was submitted when our student enrollment was at its height, and the project went to bid in November of 2020, just before prices increased astronomically across the construction industry,” she said of the lowwealth grant. Couey said that even though the project escaped price increases from COVID, there were struggles with material shortages, supply chain issues, and labor shortages, challenges the construction industry continues to face today.
The state paid for almost 88% of the project. The local share listed for the project does not include the construction and furnishing of a new transportation facility, which was necessary after the demolition of the previous bus barn. It also does not include a new AG facility across the road. “Our students helped with the interiors of both those buildings, and we are also proud to have those new structures for the Wheeler County School System. We are prouder still that no increase in property taxes was needed to accomplish these projects,” Couey said.
Couey said the system also obtained grants to help equip the buildings and playgrounds and establish learning areas in the courtyards. A large grant supplied over 90 interactive panels for instruction in the classrooms. “All totaled, we obtained over $1.7 million in grant funding,” Couey said.
The two-story brick structure is state-of-the-art in terms of design and technology. All of the county’s students are housed under one roof in a building divided into separate areas for elementary and middle/ high school functions. The structure’s architecture acknowledges community heritage, including elements from the historic county courthouse and Glenwood School. The building’s columned entrance is reminiscent of the courthouse exterior, and Mission Revival elements of the 1920s Glenwood structure are represented into the new school.
The school is essentially split down the middle. On the left side, grades PK-second are on the bottom floor and grades 3-5 are on the top. On the right side, the middle school is on the bottom, and high school is on the top. The school has 32 elementary classrooms plus a “gymatorium” for elementary P.E. and student programs. The middle school has 16 classrooms; the high school has 13 classrooms plus 2 AG/ construction classrooms and labs and a new gym for both middle and high schools.
As visitors enter, there is a receptionist area with administrative offices and a conference room for each school down the front of the building on each respective side. The nurses’ office is centrally located so the school’s two nurses can work together but students can enter from their separate sides. The media center and cafeteria are also centrally located and divided between elementary and middle/high.
Interesting facts about the new school include: the number of doors in the school (502); the number of windows (412); the number of blocks laid (206,000); and bricks (615,000). Also, 19,752,000 pounds of concrete were poured to complete the 16,264 squarefoot building.
Acknowledging the steady vigilance of Facilities Director Gregory Wilcher and Project Manager J.C. Guyton, who were on the construction site each day, Couey noted that she learned a great deal during the process of building a school, from how to organize a SPLOST/Bond Referendum to how to sell bonds, go about bid procedures, receive state reimbursement, and develop pay app schedules. “I’ve learned what happens when you have ‘unsuitable soil,’ the best time to pour concrete, what happens when you install sidewalk caulking in freezing temperatures, and how to deal with disappointments again and again as items didn’t arrive or laborers didn’t show up to work or rain and site issues delayed the entire project for two months.”
She added, “It has been a difficult year for our staff. We started late and have a condensed calendar with fewer student days and fewer holidays. Staff couldn’t move in until a few days before school started, so they had to try and get their rooms completely organized as well as their lessons and plans for the year. They have endured and loved and taught your students the same as ever, despite the many challenges.”
She summarized, “We’ve struggled a good deal and celebrated a good deal, but one thing that has become abundantly clear this year is what makes a school. For Wheeler County, a school is not a building, no matter how beautiful and new it may be. For us, a school is home, a place for our students to explore, and learn, and grow, both academically and socially. Our people are what make Wheeler County Schools so special.”
She told the crowd, “We are certainly proud to have such a beautiful new home and are ecstatic that we can share it with you today. We were very careful to choose quality designers, builders, and materials so the school will last for generations to come. And we pray that our school, its students, its staff, and its buildings will be something our community can be proud of for many years to come.”