To face facts, we must replace the Jasper Middle School buildings. The sprawling campus was mostly built in 1958 and while the exterior is neatly maintained, problems abound with something used that many years, first as a high school and later as a middle school.
Students and parents report that at times whole bathrooms are not functional. The director of operations has said that many of the problems with infrastructure would require digging up floors to remedy.
And the building design limits the technology that students can access in their classroom – something that is becoming increasingly crucial in teaching.
But the number one reason that the school needs to be replaced is that it’s not equal to its counterpart, Pickens Middle. You can’t have this. The superintendent told the board at a recent meeting that studies show students at better campuses do better academically. This is not a case of educators whining.
The inequality between the two middle schools must be equalized. Half the county shouldn’t be assigned to the outdated campus.
As to a design or even a location for the proposed new middle school, absolutely no plans exist at this point. There is a lot of talk about whether (and how) the board can rebuild at the same East Church Street site or if they are going to look for new property. But it’s not decided.
We called board chair Mike Cowart on Monday to doublecheck on any decisions, and he was clear, “We don’t have the cart before the horse.”
First, they need to fund a new school and that means we need to vote yes for the SPLOST next Tuesday. New schools are best paid for one cent at the time, rather than through property taxes.
We believe in this case, the project is not just a good one, but more-or-less mandatory. The kids in the half the county shouldn’t be held back so we save a penny at the cash register on every dollar we spend.
The board, however, is disingenuous in their repeated claims that this is not a new tax. While the voters here have approved similar sales tax resolutions in 1997, 2002, 2006, and 2011, it is a new tax every go round. Each SPLOST comes with its own goals and represents updated priorities. Saying it is only “continuation” makes as much sense as saying the shoes I bought Saturday aren’t new, they just continue the old shoes I threw away.
If down the road the school board trots out a SPLOST with poorly defined goals, you might seriously consider a no-vote. But this is not the case this time.
When people want anything school-related, they usually use the argument, “it’s all about the kids.” In this case, it’s not only the kids, it’s also about the county seat and building something we can be proud of. Consider the location of JMS on Church Street, right in the middle of the main avenue across this county, traveling east to west.
It’s important that the school board handles construction well at such a prominent site. We urge them to consider the profile of that location and rebuild something there that makes the county proud. The current campus has served this county for half-a-century, let’s not see it become an abandoned site or be replaced with an eyesore.
To do this, the school board needs the available funds. And we trust them to be good stewards of it. The school board has a solid track record of managing their building projects dating back to the current PHS campus (which was a lesson in mis-management but one from two decades ago). Since this they have relied on professionals and brought their projects in with nice results and on budget, even as the board’s makeup has changed regularly.
They have earned our trust with the SPLOST and we hope with JMS they build something we can be proud of.