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Winder officials vote down land swap for church

WINDER - By a vote of 3-2 Tuesday night and following a brief executive session, Winder council members voted against a proposed plan to swap the spray field (irrigated pastureland) on Gainesville Highway for the 100-year-old Baptist church building and property located in the city. Developer Michael Carter would have purchased the old church and then traded it for the field.

Phillip Adair and Edgar Fussell, who renovated the old Methodist church at 71 W. Candler Street in Winder, addressed the council Tuesday evening before the decision was made. Adair and Fussell gave their opinions as to the structural soundness of the Baptist church building at the request of Mayor Buddy Ouzts. Their advice to the council was that if the 40-year-old heavy plaster ceiling were torn out of the sanctuary, the roof trusses were in good shape and the building could be stabilized and used for the school's purposes.

A study done 10 years ago, however, concluded that the cost to repair the aging structure would be prohibitive. Councilman Mike Mingus questioned the validity of Adair's and Fussell's findings in light of that study's conclusion.

Barrow County School Superintendent Ron Saunders also addressed Ouzts and the council Tuesday evening, lending his support to the proposed deal.

"If you're able to work this expansion out, more education will come to Barrow County adults," Saunders said.

Through the adult literacy program at Lanier Tech, thousands of Barrow County adult students have earned their GEDs.

Lisa Maloof, executive director of Lanier Tech, had also told the council earlier that "there are many more programs we could offer this community" if the campus had room to expand. Tommy Jennings, a Chamber of Commerce executive, said that the Lanier Tech campus would benefit from a campus atmosphere rather than the storefront location that houses the school.

"Athens Tech and Gwinnett Tech have just received grants for the study of bioscience; in fact, 316 has become known as the bioscience corridor," Jennings said. "Lanier Tech is in a unique position to contribute to the economic development of Barrow County and Winder. We want to attract that type of industry. It's clean, it doesn't require water and the wages are attractive."

In response to the council's decision to deny the swap Saunders said, "Well, I'm sure they had their reasons. The school could look for different ways to fund (the expansion) at this point."