Now that Lowndes County School District voters have approved a $44 million bond issue for capital improvements, the district must decide the timeline and next steps for the projects.
In the case of an $11 million career-technical center — one of the crown jewels of the bond issue that received 62 percent voter approval Tuesday — the district must decide where to build it.
LCSD Superintendent Lynn Wright told The Dispatch on Wednesday the district now considers three properties as “contenders” to house the career-technical center.
Two of those properties — a 12-acre parcel T.E. Lott owns behind Lowndes Funeral Home and 20 acres Ralph Youngblood owns near Columbus Nissan — have long been considered options for construction, Wright said. Their owners submitted bids for the board’s consideration in 2013. The board, during that process, received appraisal valued for those two properties, as well.
Recently, Wright said a third property owner expressed interest in selling LCSD property for the career-technical center, and the district is awaiting the appraisal value. Wright would neither comment on the location of the property nor name its owner. He did say the new “contender” could include as many as 37 acres.
‘We haven’t ruled out any sites’
Wright said the district needs at least 12 acres to build the career-technical center up to specifications, but more acreage would offer the district options for future expansion.
He added the district may very well consider even more properties before making a decision.
“We haven’t ruled out any sites yet,” Wright said. “Both (of the previously considered properties) are still in the hunt and now a third is being considered. We haven’t closed the door on any possibilities. We’re just trying to see what best suits our needs.”
LCSD board attorney Jeff Smith said the third “contender” is located near Youngblood’s property in the Columbus Nissan area. He also declined to release the property owner’s name or further details of the property.
The district has budgeted as much as $800,000 from bond proceeds to purchase property for the center, according to Smith, and it isn’t legally required to solicit bids from property owners before purchasing land. It is required, by law, to purchase property for no more than its appraised value unless it can prove a compelling reason to pay more.
Smith said Youngblood wants $380,000 for his property, which is more than the appraised value. Lott, on the other hand, is asking $580,000 for his parcel, Smith said, which is within the appraisal.
Still, Lott’s property presents the board with two problems, according to Smith — it’s in a flood zone and it’s in the Columbus city limits.
Smith said Lott has worked to elevate the portion of his property in the flood zone to meet school district specifications, but that still may not fully satisfy the board’s preference.
“Some board members are hesitant about the Lott property because it’s in the city limits,” Smith said. “They’d prefer the property to be located in the county school district.”
Further, Smith said he wrote a letter to Lott last fall, at the board’s behest, releasing Lott from LCSD’s six-month option on his property. In that letter, Smith said he indicated the school district may still be interested in the property if it was available in the future, but he was free to sell it to whomever.
On Wednesday, Smith confirmed to The Dispatch that more people have “come forward” interested in selling the district property.
The career-technical center will service high school students countywide. The bond also will fund a $26 million new high school in New Hope and renovation projects throughout the district.
Wright said he hopes the board will decide on a home for the career-technical center soon. In the meantime, he said the board is planning a work session where it will issue the bonds and plan other next steps.
Once construction contracts are signed and the two large projects break ground, Wright said it would take about 18 months to complete them.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.