Cobb school board approves $50 million for new graduation facility

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

The Cobb County School District plans to spend $50 million to build a new multiuse facility to host graduation ceremonies.

The school board approved the preliminary idea on Thursday, at the request of Superintendent Chris Ragsdale. The board will have to vote at a later date to approve the purchase of land for the project and to hire an architect.

Details are scarce about the plans at this point. Ragsdale said he didn’t know where the facility would be, when it would be completed or all of its uses. But he emphasized the district’s need for a much larger place to host graduations so students’ entire families can attend.

“We owe this to the parents,” he said.

The facility would have about 8,000 seats and a parking deck, he said. Currently, most graduation ceremonies are hosted at the Kennesaw State University Convocation Center, which seats about 4,600. Ragsdale compared the proposed facility to the Georgia State University Convocation Center, which cost about $85 million and can host 7,500 people for graduations.

The project will be funded from revenue the district made from selling several properties, and from money received from the state to reimburse for construction projects, Cobb officials said. The board also authorized the district to use its savings to cover some of the cost while waiting for the state reimbursements to come in.

The project will not use funds collected as part of district’s special local option sales tax for education, officials said. The board considered using the sales tax collections to fund a commencement and events center two years ago officials estimated would cost $40 million, but it was ultimately removed from the plan voters approved. Board members at the time believed the district had more pressing needs.

“The return on investment is actually infinity,” Ragsdale said. “As long as the Cobb County School District is in existence, this facility will provide access to the most important event that we exist for, quite honestly, which is graduation.”

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ragsdale said the move would save the district money in rental fees to host large events like graduation ceremonies and events celebrating teachers and employees of the year. Other potential uses for the facility could include science fairs, fine arts presentations, robotic competitions, band performances, testing administration and basketball games and tournaments, he said.

Becky Sayler was the only board member to vote against the project. She, along with board member Leroy “Tre’” Hutchins, voiced a preference for addressing some of the district’s more urgent maintenance needs at its schools.

“I can see the need for this. I can see how it would be really exciting. I can see how we would use it a lot. I just don’t see that it’s a pressing need right now,” Sayler said. “I’m cautious about this spending right now, knowing what some of our schools look like.”

Ragsdale said because the project is funded by separate revenue sources, sales tax revenue can continue to be used fully on maintaining existing facilities in the district.

Hutchins asked that the facility be centrally located, and Ragsdale said that’s something that’s already been discussed.