Harrison 9th-Grade Center Approved
The Cobb County school board voted 4-3 to proceed immediately with the full $14.5 million renovation project.
The full $14.5 million Harrison High School construction project, including the ninth-grade center, will proceed this summer after all.
The Cobb County Board of Education voted 4-3 this afternoon to move ahead with the bundled project, reversing a 4-3 decision March 22 to break up the work and postpone the ninth-grade center indefinitely.
It was the third time in 15 months that the school board voted on the Harrison project, and the third time the vote was 4-3.
The only difference in the votes has been Vice Chairman David Morgan of South Cobb’s Post 3.
He joined Lynnda Eagle of West Cobb, David Banks of Northeast and East Cobb, and Scott Sweeney of East Cobb in voting to put the ninth-grade center at Harrison and award the architectural contract in February 2011.
He switched and joined Alison Bartlett of central Cobb, Kathleen Angelucci of North Cobb and Tim Stultz of Smyrna to vote against the ninth-grade center and to proceed with only the other elements of the renovations seven weeks ago.
That vote delayed any work until mid-2013, made $460,000 in architectural and engineering plans worthless, and raised doubts that the ninth-grade center would ever be built.
Still, there was no indication any of the four who voted against the ninth-grade center had changed their minds when Eagle, who represents Harrison, asked at the end of the board’s April 26 meeting to bring the issue back for another vote today.
“I haven’t asked whether anyone will change their vote,” Eagle said today, denying that she had engaged in backroom bargaining with Morgan. “I think we have a moral obligation and a legal obligation.”
But Angelucci said the revote violated board policy and set the board up to be held hostage by repeated debates on settled issues, much as the board dealt with the calendar issue multiple times last year.
“I was really taken aback at what transpired at the last meeting,” she said. “I checked with every board member that voted on the amendment before. … No one has changed their position.”
Bartlett, who made the motion in March to delay the ninth-grade center and has been its most vocal opponent going back to the vote in February 2011, echoed Angelucci’s complaint about the process. “I’m stunned about what’s gone on again.”
Eagle and Chairman Sweeney argued that the issue was settled when the board voted to spend money on the project in February 2011, so reversing the March vote was merely restoring the board’s decision.
She expressed horror at the condition of the Harrison track and called for steps to avoid anything falling into such disrepair again.
But she did not back down from opposing the ninth-grade center because of the money it would take from other SPLOST III projects, because the student population is declining and because the school system can’t afford the ongoing additional expenses for maintenance.
“I am trying to be fiscally responsible for the long-term vision of this system,” Bartlett said.
Sweeney argued that proceeding with the full project is the fiscally responsible move.
He balanced the $130,000 a year in additional custodial costs cited by Bartlett against the $460,000 in wasted architectural work, hundreds of thousands of dollars in new architectural work for each half of the unbundled project, and the likely higher construction costs in the future.
He also warned about the damaging political effects of dropping the ninth-grade center, approved by voters in the 2008 SPLOST III election, when the board plans to go back to voters in March 2013 for SPLOST IV.
“We’ve taken a lot of people who were pro-SPLOST or maybe undecided and turned them into anti-SPLOST with this,” Sweeney said.
Still, the decision came down to Morgan, who asked a series of questions of Bartlett, SPLOST project head Chris Ragsdale and Superintendent Michael Hinojosa to sort out the costs and effects of voting either way.
Morgan was frustrated in his attempt to put a number on the cost of the unbundled projects vs. the $14.5 million for the bundled version, and Ragsdale refused to draw a direct line between building the ninth-grade center and cutting back on projects such as upgrading computers and installing security systems.
The decisive factor seemed to be Hinojosa’s decision to stick with the original recommendation: to build the whole thing now.
“Ms. Bartlett brings up some very good points, and we considered those,” Hinojosa said, describing a difficult process. “After we weighed all those factors, we didn’t change our final recommendation. … We decided to move ahead with the project.”
With Morgan’s vote, that’s what the school board decided as well.