Installation of Decatur’s fiber optic network continues despite virus

Decatur’s new fiber optic network will cover 10 school sites and 14 city sites including City Hall. Scheduled to finish this fall, the fiber optic project hasn’t been delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Bill Banks file photo for the AJC
Decatur’s new fiber optic network will cover 10 school sites and 14 city sites including City Hall. Scheduled to finish this fall, the fiber optic project hasn’t been delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Bill Banks file photo for the AJC

Though a number Decatur’s infrastructure projects have shut down during the coronavirus outbreak, construction continues on the new fiber optic network that’ll be shared by both the city and school system.

City Manager Andrea Arnold said the city has already borrowed money to finance the project and there are no plans of even a temporary suspension. Total cost is $2.3 million with the city borrowing through the Georgia Municipal Association’s direct financing program, to be repaid over 10 years.

The costs for City Schools of Decatur, 28 percent of that total, or about $658,000, is funded through the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). During a school board work session last week Superintendent David Dude stated his belief that of all CSD revenues SPLOST could take the biggest hit during the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn. He said that preliminary figures indicate SPLOST funds will be roughly 50 percent lower over the next six months, and 25 percent lower in the six months after that.

But on Monday Eston Melton, CSD’s Executive Director of Information Services, said this shouldn’t impact district’s ability to pay for the new fiber optic network.

“The reduction of SPLOST might affect those projects we have aspirations for doing in the future,” he said. “But for current projects every SPLOST dollar is accounted for. We reimburse the city for our share of the fiber optic, and we’ve been making payments since last summer. I don’t anticipate any problem with that.”

The project started last August and is scheduled to take 12 to 14 months. The new network—Melton anticipates a life span of about 20 years—will cover 14 city and 10 school sites, plus two school administrative sites. But even with a fall finish Melton said CSD won’t join up until summer, 2021.

“It would be difficult making the transition during the school year,” Melton said. “We need time for testing and configuration. But that has been the plan all along. Plus, our contract with our current provider (Education Networks of America) doesn’t end until [summer 2021].”