Dollars and sense: Will Cobb graduation venue save district money?

When Cobb County Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale asked the school board to approve a $50 million effort to build a graduation and event venue in the district, he said it was a way to save money.

The venue “would result in significant cost savings for the district, as we currently have to rent facilities,” Ragsdale told the school board in March.

Two months after the board initially approved the venture, district officials have not said how much money the new multipurpose facility will save.

The school board approved $50 million to build a multipurpose facility big enough to host 8,000 people for graduation ceremonies and a parking deck. It would allow family members who may currently be excluded from the ceremonies based on space limitations to attend, Ragsdale said. The board appointed an architect in April to begin working on the plans. A location and completion date have not been set. The Cobb school board meets Thursday.

The district currently rents the Kennesaw State University Convocation Center for graduations, which can host 4,600 people. The multipurpose facility could also host hundreds of other employee celebrations and student events in Cobb, Ragsdale said.

When board member Becky Sayler asked in April for more details, including how much money the district could save in rental fees, she was told to refer back to the March meeting. Those details were not disclosed at either meeting.

The school district also did not respond to questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about how much money Cobb currently spends on rental facilities or how much money the new multipurpose facility is expected to save the district. Ragsdale was not available for an interview, a spokesperson said.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Documents obtained by the AJC through the Georgia Open Records Act show the district will spend close to $50,000 to host most high school graduations at Kennesaw State University this month. That total does not include the $10 parking fee guests will have to pay.

Some Atlanta schools host commencement ceremonies at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion. Other school systems use arenas and football stadiums. Most venues are owned or operated by area colleges or local governments.

In the 2022-23 academic year, Cobb paid $51,000 to the Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta to rent its facilities for a luncheon to honor mechanics, school nurses, secretaries and other support personnel, and three luncheons honoring retirees. Two of the retiree luncheons were making up for luncheons missed during the pandemic.

The district may rent other facilities around the county throughout the year for concerts, award ceremonies, education events and dances, a district spokesperson said in response to written questions from the AJC.

“In addition, large gatherings that currently use the facilities of an existing school put a strain and extra effort on the staff at that school for preparation and cleaning,” the district said.

Ragsdale has been interested in a multipurpose facility for at least two years. Board members previously questioned the necessity when he suggested the district use sales tax revenue to cover the cost in 2021. It was left off the sales tax project list then, but board members gave it an initial green light this year with the understanding that it will be paid for by revenue made from selling property and from state reimbursements for other construction projects.

“The return on investment is actually infinity,” Ragsdale said in March. “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.”