12 schools in Fulton district cited as “below average” or worse

Nearly one in five buildings owned by the Fulton County school district, including 12 schools, are in “below average” condition or worse, according to a new study commissioned by the school system.

The 21 buildings listed also include support and administrative offices where students do not attend. The buildings are not considered unsafe but can have problems from leaky roofs to old heating and cooling systems to subpar plumbing, according to Fulton officials. The schools are mostly in south Fulton.

At least six of the buildings are considered to be in “very poor” condition based on the study by a consulting group as part of the school district’s proposed capital improvement plan for the next five years.

The plan, which was outlined at a school board meeting Thursday, identifies projects and equipment purchases, provides a planning schedule and suggests options for financing the work. Projected cost for the 5-year plan would be close to $475 million.

Five meetings are being held throughout the district beginning Tuesday to inform the community about the capital plan.

Some parents have long complained that south Fulton, which has a mostly non-white and poor population, has been neglected in favor of the more affluent north. The condition of school facilities was one of the top concerns cited by parents in south and central Fulton, according to the capital plan study.

The buildings in worst shape have deficiencies as well as projected costs related to needs such as roofs, HVAC and plumbing work over the next five years, according to Patrick Burke, deputy superintendent of operations for Fulton schools.

Burke says the district has plans to dispose of many of the support and administrative properties in the worst shape. The capital plan does not recommend substantial investments in support facilities, he said.

In previous years, capital plans have been financed using SPLOST (special-purpose local option sales tax) funds. Fulton County voters are expected to consider a SPLOST V referendum in May, school leaders say; projects listed would be commissioned starting in fiscal year 2017. SPLOST funds in Georgia are primarily used for technology in schools and supporting capital projects such as new school buildings, renovations and upgrades.

“We want to show the voters we have a capital plan to keep our buildings up, to support instruction, support the work our schools do, keep our schools safe, support the needs of teachers,” said Kenneth Zeff, interim superintendent.

Fulton school leaders say they plan to focus on structures in the worst shape when they release in February a detailed list of projects they propose tackling over the next five years.

Of the 97 campuses and administrative and support facilities assessed as part of the study, 76 were considered in “average” condition or better. Fulton is the fourth-largest school system in Georgia, with approximately 96,000 students.

For the past two capital plans, Burke says the school district has used an outside consulting group to assess the facilities in an attempt to be fair and objective.

“As staff, we look at these buildings every day,” he said. “Having an independent lens periodically really is helpful.”

“The (proposed) renovations will touch a number of schools that are either those high needs from a standpoint of facility or high needs from the standpoint of the educational programs. There’s a lot of other renovations that are just making sure we don’t see that downward slide.”

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