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June 12, 2014

Hamilton: New site chosen for consolidated elementary school

Jasper — The Hamilton County School Board voted unanimously to change the site location for a new elementary school construction project at their June 9 board meeting, choosing school-owned property at the high school complex on US 129, rather than the JRE Lee Complex that was previously approved by the board.

The school board on April 14, voted 4-1 to consolidate the county’s three elementary schools and they also approved the JRE Lee site to build on, which began the new construction process. The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) later approved the survey for the JRE Lee site and the next phase is an onsite review by FDOE and other parties to either say yay or nay for a new construction project for Hamilton County.

Since the choice of site for the new school was made in April, things have changed at the new high school, which was one of the originally proposed sites, whereby flooding issues have been addressed and corrected. Superintendent Thomas Moffses had said in April that he couldn’t recommend the new high school site because of flooding issues, but has since changed his mind.

Moffses gave the board members aerial photos of the three originally proposed sites and each photo had an overlay of a sample school layout and how it would fit at each site. The sites were Central Hamilton Elementary/old high school, JRE Lee/old administrative complex, and property at the new high school, all of which the school district owns. The sample school layout overlay, Moffses said, is one that is being built in West Florida that has the exact amount of student stations that Hamilton County needs.

“At this time, this will be the last opportunity for discussion on property,” said Moffses.

With flooding issues at the new high school campus resolved, Moffses said it now makes the area suitable for constructing a new elementary school.

As Moffses reviewed each of the aerial photos, he said using the site at CHE would most likely require a two-story structure, which the board wasn’t keen on. Plus, there would be no place to put students while construction was going on, and the community was against losing the old track and field area that is currently being utilized for other events.

The JRE Lee site, Moffses said, had plenty of room for the new construction. There was no other discussion of that site.

At the new high school location, Moffses offered two different models, one more condensed than the other with less open airways, and another larger model, the same model as the overlaid one at CHE and JRE Lee.

General Services Director Charles Lambert explained that a lot of the drain boxes on the new high school campus were not constructed correctly when the school was built.

“We modified them, put rock around them and the water now drains into the tops of these boxes instead of all around the sides of them,” said Lambert. “The water movement here has made a big difference. We’ve monitored several pretty hard rains and in less than an hour’s time, our big puddle areas are non-existent anymore. We’ve still got some work yet to do. The next phase is addressing the settlement pond.”

Lambert said he also thought some more changes could be made around the football field. All in all, he said, the flooding issues have been alleviated on the campus. He said he had total confidence in constructing a new elementary school on the property, although he would suggest adding fill dirt to raise the ground level about one to two feet prior to construction.

“We’ve got solid ground here,” said Lambert. “I think it would be a very successful site if it’s planned and engineered correctly. That’s my opinion.”

Lambert also said another advantage is if parents have kids in both schools, it will be easier for them to come to one central location.

“I see more benefit in the long run for us here than any other location we’ve looked at,” said Lambert.

Board members agreed that security would also be better because there is one entrance in and out of the campus.

After more discussion, Moffses made a recommendation to modify the site selection for construction of the new elementary school from the JRE Lee/Admin. site to available property on the HCHS campus. Jeanie Daniels made a motion to accept the recommendation, Sammy McCoy seconded it, and the board voted 5-0 to approve the change.

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