McDuffie County School officials were not able to complete all of the projects originally planned for the current Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, and board members recently added another expense to that list.
In May, the school board approved a construction lab at the high school that would allow students to learn plumbing, electrical, masonry and carpentry and earn industrial certification as required to be hired by companies such as Georgia Power.
Notes taken by The McDuffie Mirror during the May budget work session show the school board was given contractor bids to renovate the construction lab. The lowest bid, from R.C.N. Contracting, Inc. was $315,400 and the highest was $412,242 from DeRalco, Inc. Then-superintendent Mark Petersen recommended R.C.N. Contracting.
"It's not adding square footage. It's taking out walls and putting in roll-up doors. It's a matter of using space that's already there," Dr. Petersen said in the presentation.
Dr. Petersen added that Georgia Power is adding two nuclear reactors near Waynesboro, and would be looking for hundreds of certified workers that they would reportedly pay up to $25 per hour, and the school system needs to have students entering the workforce who are prepared for that. The program coincides with the Work Ready certification recently received by McDuffie County.
"I think it's a no-brainer, we need to go with it," board member Bob Smith said.
The motion was made by Ella Mae Samuels, seconded by Dexter Lovins and approved unanimously. All seven board members were present.
During the meeting, Dr. Petersen said One Stop had received a $1.4 million dollar grant to train workers for Georgia Power, and would need a facility to do that. He said Augusta Technical Institute Thomson Campus did not have such a facility, and One Stop would assist with training the students.
One Stop's Joyce Blevins said in an interview with The Mirror last week that Dr. Petersen did ask her for help paying for the construction lab.
"But I said 'no.' We can't even build ourselves a facility," she said. "Our job is to train students and to get them a WorkKeys Assessment, not to build buildings."
Ms. Blevins said she and Dr. Petersen also discussed that One Stop would rent the high school's construction lab in the evenings to train workers, but that has not been finalized with the school board. She said the school would benefit financially from the rental income, but she did not know what they would do with it. She also said One Stop can help the high school students, not only with WorkKeys, but by funding their trips to Skills U.S.A. competitions, if the school's lab and program becomes accredited.
Members of the school board discussed the construction lab at their October planning meeting, when they learned of a change order that adds $2,717 to the project. School Superintendent Jim LeBrun said at that time that board members had told him they thought One Stop was funding the project.
"It has to come out of SPLOST," he said. "It's something we did not plan, but it was built, so we had to pay for it."
The renovations took place all summer, and the certificate of occupancy was given the first week of October.
Thomson High Vocation Construction Coach Barry Arrington said students began working in the lab last Monday. He said paperwork for the accreditation is in the works.
Lowe's provided tools for the lab and a ceremony will be held to recognize its donation.