Davis Elementary: More Details on Rebuilding Issue
By LYDIA BERGLAR
At the Dade County Board of Commissioners meeting on Nov. 3, District 2 (Sand Mountain) Commissioner Phillip Hartline addressed the issue of the rebuilding project at Davis Elementary School. The Sentinel followed up with Hartline, the Dade County Board of Education, and others to gain clarity on the issue and to follow current developments.
Carolyn Bradford, school board chair and Lookout Mountain District representative, reported that “The Dade County Board of Education has authorized the Superintendent to be the official spokesperson for the school district.”
Josh Ingle, the superintendent, then clarified that “The Dade County Board of Education has not voted on whether to move forward or put the project on hold at this time.”
Phillip Hartline and Jennifer Hartline (school board representative for Sand Mountain District) both talked with the Sentinel separately. The Hartlines will have children at three schools next year: the high school, middle school, and Davis Elementary.
Phillip noted that he was made aware of the current developments through his wife but that other board members who could not be named had also spoken with him. “Other board members have said that they’re not going to build it back.”
He recapped the last three years. “In 2019, they had a community meeting to discuss whether to tear it down or remodel it. The price was roughly $1.5 or $1.8 million to remodel the existing building or tear it down and build it back for $2.8 million. At the time, it was going to be rebuilt footprint for footprint. Once the school board tore it down, they began getting their plans. COVID-19 hit in 2020, so between 2019 and 2021, we were working on getting a set of plans. The price went to $4.4 million because of the rising cost of materials and the labor rates.”
Phillip is discouraged that the size of the rebuild decreased significantly. “The plans went from footprint for footprint to now about 40% or 50% of what was there.”
Phillip notes that money has been spent on other projects. “In the time of this school not being built back, the school board spent $850,000 on putting a gym floor, drainage, and HVAC in the middle school gym.”
Jennifer provided additional information about the current developments. “I was asked to meet with Mr. Ingle and Miss Bradford in regards to SPLOST on Oct. 17, 2022. During that meeting, it was brought to my attention that Mr. Ingle and Mrs. Bradford didn’t see that we could afford to build back the Davis rock building currently.”
“I asked what the others had said about it, but not everyone had been spoken with at that time. I asked to see the SPLOST numbers again, and I asked about the additional money coming in from SPLOST. [My estimates accounted for up to five months of a] SPLOST amount of less than $200,000. I found that only two months had less than $200,000, and in those two months, it was not below $197,500. For the last seven months, it has been well over $300,000.”
Jennifer asked about other options which had not been considered. “I suggested leveraging against our own current funds and also requested estimates on what it would cost to bond the build in-full and in-part.”
“By my quick calculations, we should be able to cover the original cost of approximately $2.8 million with existing funds and then bond the additional amount. The following week, I received the bond cost numbers. I was provided three different scenarios. Scenario A: Bond $2.5 million with an estimated cost of $99,513.20 over the four-year life of the bond. Scenario B: Bond $5 million with an estimated cost of $199,026.40 over the four-year life of the bond. Scenario C: Bond $8,045,000, but I’m not entirely sure why this option was presented.”
Phillip noted that he has talked with numerous people, but they cannot be named. “I’ve had several teachers email and text me. They’re disappointed, but they’re not going to say anything just like the principal’s not going to say anything because they’re afraid they’re going to get fired.”
Throughout the last three years, Phillip regularly asked for updates about the plans. “The response was always, ‘We can’t do this because we’re waiting on the fire marshal,’ or ‘Atlanta’s slow,’ or ‘COVID,’ but during that time, I traveled. I saw stuff being built in other places. Schools have been built during COVID.”
Phillip continued, “One of the board members has said, ‘They’ve done without it for three years. Apparently, they don’t need the space.’ Eventually, they’re going to say, ‘You don’t have enough kids to operate. We’re just going to shut you down.’”
He reported that four Head Start classrooms had to move to Dade Elementary when the Davis building was torn down. “Right now, there are roughly 255 kids at Davis. There are kids who go from the valley to the mountain to go to school there. It’s just as easy to drive kids up the mountain in the morning and off in the evening as it is off the mountain in the morning and up in the evening.”
Phillip is considering the current and potential growth of the county. “There’s no room for growth at Davis right now – none. I’ve talked to the IDA, and we’ve got several different things going on in the county that are bringing growth.”
Jennifer also mentioned growth in the county. “I referenced the increase in sales. The housing growth projected at the Trenton Golf Club alone is 400 to 700 new homes. I stressed the need to be proactive versus reactive. Davis Elementary is at capacity and needs those classrooms back.”
Jennifer noted that she was raised to do what she says she will do and that her actions prove more than her words. “From day one, I have stressed the promises made to the children of Davis, the parents of Davis, the community of Davis, and the taxpayers of Dade. A promise was made by the board to build the school back. In my opinion, it’s not going to get any cheaper, and the rebuild needs to happen now.”
Phillip brought up the multi-purpose building that has been discussed by the school board. “Prior to the county swapping land with the board, they didn’t have anywhere to build it at the high school, but now that we swapped, they have the land to build their building.”
When asked if he was implying that funds that could be used to rebuild Davis are going to be used for the multi-purpose building instead, Hartline responded, “That’s exactly what I’m implying.”
He continued, “I can only speculate about what they discuss in executive session. I just know that they’ve had several meetings since they received the new price, and there’s been silence. Where’s it being talked about? I’ve been with the county for four years and we’ve only been in executive session a handful of times, and they last maybe 30 minutes. Where is Davis being talked about if it’s not being talked about in the open meeting?”
Hartline noted that he received the open records request, but as of the morning of Nov. 10, he had not yet had time to go through them.
County Executive Ted Rumley has not been involved in the issue, but he recalled the tearing down of the building in 2019. “Robert Goff and I were there when they actually tore down the building,” he said. “They planned to put in a historic cornerstone. We were under the impression the money was allocated and it was ready to go.”
Rumley understands that it is up to the Board of Education to decide how to proceed. “Of course, that’s their business, that’s their decision,” he said. As far as Rumley is aware, the issue has not been talked about at any of the public Board of Education meetings.
The agenda for the Nov. 14 Board of Education meeting includes three items that may be related to this topic.
- “Davis Elementary Distinguished Title I School”
- “Dade County Schools Facilities Discussion” (Under the Superintendent’s Report)
- “Postpone Davis and any other New Building Construction” (Under ACtion Items)
The Sentinel will cover the Nov. 14 meeting and any follow-up conversations in the Nov. 23 edition.