Gwinnett BOE calls referendum on bonds for new high school, other capital projects

GCPS school board passed a resolution to put General Obligation Bonds on the November ballot. The total amount of the bonds will not exceed $350 million. (File Photo)

Gwinnett County Public Schools is planning to build a new high school in the Mill Creek area and install artificial turf on athletic fields among other projects slated to be paid off with bonds that residents will vote on this fall.

The county’s school board unanimously called for a referendum on whether the district should issue General Obligations Bonds worth as much as $350 million to pay for the projects during a special called meeting Friday afternoon. The vote will go on the November general election ballot

That spot on the ballot had previously been expected to go to a referendum on Gwinnett joining MARTA, but county commissioners decided this week to hold that vote in March instead.

“The timing is very beneficial,” Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said about the bond being on the November ballot. “It allows us to begin things six months earlier and have some things done before the next school year (2019-20).”

District spokeswoman Sloan Roach said the school system is planning to use the debt service millage rate to pay off the debt incurred by the bonds.

“The debt service rate was decreased by .10 to 1.95 mills this year,” Roach said. “Funding from that will still be sufficient to pay for the General Obligation Bonds.”

Wilbanks said the bonds will be used for capital improvement projects. In the district’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2019, school officials projected enrollment will increase by more than 1,000 students each year for the next five years.

The new high school in the Mill Creek cluster is a project that the district wants to get on the building project list to help alleviate the continuing growth of enrollment each year.

“While it is not urgent today, it’s going to get urgent pretty quickly,” Wilbanks said. “This allows us to plan and build the high school in a timely fashion.”

The district will install the turf fields at the stadiums that schools use for sports such as football, soccer and lacrosse. They have not decided, however, which schools will get the new turf.

“They say turf is the next big thing,” Wilbanks said. “Safety is our main concern so we’re going to continue to do research on it before implementing it at any school.”

Additional projects funded by the bond include: the build out of Discovery High School, renovations to Central Gwinnett High School’s fine arts facilities, lab and instruction space renovations at middle and high schools, school bus purchases and technology improvements.

The bonds would also pay for system-wide enhancements to school safety. Wilbanks said the safety projects involve improving the amount and quality of exit doors for schools.

“You have to have a specific amount of exits doors to pass the fire code,” Wilbanks said. “If you only had to do one door it wouldn’t be too expensive, but when you have to do multiple doors at schools for 140 facilities it can be very expensive.”

The passage comes after district officials had previously tried to get a GO bond referendum placed on the May 22 primary ballot, but that effort was called off because of issues meeting the legal advertising time requirements.

I graduated from Brookwood High School and Georgia Southern University with a degree in Journalism. I cover news and education for the largest school system in the state of Georgia.