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Voters could have say on next round of SPLOST work in September

A new Norris Elementary School, several new roofs, technology upgrades and improvements to The Brickyard are set to be some of the main components of a penny-tax package that will be put before voters later this year.

McDuffie County Superintendent Mark Petersen estimated that the fourth round of Special Purpose Local Option Sales tax collections - if approved by voters - will collect around $16 million over five years. Collections would begin Jan. 1, 2008.

However, Dr. Petersen said he'd like to set a cap on collections at $20 million, just in case.

"I'd hate to shut down taking sales tax in just four years, because I've already exceeded my cap," he said.

The project list still has to be fine-tuned and approved by school board members, who may vote next month to put the sales tax question on the ballot for September.

The SPLOST is an additional one-cent in sales tax that is collected to help pay for various projects. It can be levied - with voter approval - by city and county governments and school systems.

In the McDuffie County School System's case, past SPLOST collections have helped pay for projects like new classrooms at various schools, the new physical education facility at Thomson High School and other gymnasium projects, land purchases and several intensive renovation projects.

It is a new building for Norris Elementary that stands to be the most expensive item in the school system's plans for SPLOST IV. A new building will probably cost about $7 million, with half of that coming from the state.

The current one doesn't meet current state building and fire codes, and needs more than $6 million in work just to get up to standards, officials said.

"What we have there is, quite frankly, not fixable," said Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Jim Franklin.

Plus, said Norris Principal Steve Rhodes, it's hard to heat and cool the more-than-50-year-old building.

"We continue to have tremendous heating bills and power bills with just the inefficiency of the structure," he said.

The Norris Elementary building was built in the 1950s as a high school for local African American students. That heritage of R.L. Norris High School will certainly be saved, said Dr. Petersen, possibly by creating a museum in the existing gymnasium.

"Norris will always be Norris," Dr. Petersen said. "It has been a mainstay, and we have a large number of alumni from Norris High School in this area. I think it is important for our community to remember the history and the heritage of what once was."

In The Brickyard, the work will range from new bleachers to renovated bathrooms - projects aimed at making the stadium a more modern, first-class facility.

"We just don't have enough seats," said Dr. Petersen.

But the scope and specific plans will not be finalized without input from the public and football fans.

"Before we even get to summer time, we'll probably gather a committee of sorts to be able to go over there and say 'Here it is. What kind of things do we need to look at?,'" Dr. Petersen said.

Also included in the proposed penny-tax package will be adding pitches to any school system building with a flat roof. The flat roofs, Dr. Franklin said, have been plagued by leaks because they expand and compress with the temperature and allow water to stand.

"They may have been a good idea (when they were built), but not anymore," he said.

Related Story
 • Building a better Brickyard

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Web posted on Thursday, February 23, 2006

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