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Ground broken on new $48 million high school

By Beth Alston

 

AMERICUS — A large groups of community leaders, educators and supporters gathered Thursday on South Georgia Tech Parkway for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Sumter County High School.

Rick Barnes, vice chair of the Sumter County Board of Education (BOE), stepped in for Dr. Mike Busman, chair, who was not in attendance. Barnes told those gathered that the “milestone” being marked comes after “lots and lots of hard work, time, due diligence, and meetings with all our community members, other elected partners, our partners in education, our construction management teams, our architects, our staff, our administration in our schools and our teachers and all the way down to our janitorial staff and maintenance. Everyone’s had a hand in getting to this place.” He also thanked Sumter Schools Superintendent Torrance Choates and said the board looks forward to working with him for another three years.

Following the invocation by the Rev. Wendy Peacock, Barnes introduced some distinguished guests, his fellow BOE members: Edith Green, Alice Green, Jim Reid, Meda Krenson and Sylvia Roland. “During the planning for this new high school, we took three plane rides to look at other schools … four bus rides …interviewed 10 architects … 10 construction firms … We looked at nine or 12 other high schools,” He said they also spent much time with the Americus-Sumter County Development Authority to get to a fair land price for the tract. “This board has spent countless hours getting here, and … I’m very proud to be a member of it.”

Barnes also recognized Americus Police Chief Mark Scott; Neal Weaver, president of Georgia Southwestern State University; Carolyn Wright, executive director, Sumter County Chamber of Commerce; and Ivy Oliver, Sumter County Economic Development Authority interim executive director; representatives of Georgia Power and Sumter EMC, among others.

Remarks were made by several leaders as well. Kimothy Hadley, principal of Americus-Sumter High School, said that building the new school “will allow our community to look back on its past achievements as we prepare for our future successes. The new high school building will provide an updated learning environment for our teachers to deliver quality instruction resulting in a high level of student engagement.”

Brandi Lunneborg, president and CEO of Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, and founding board member of the Ignite College & Career Academy (C&CA), which will operate in the new high school, also spoke. She said that after 200 hours of volunteer work by a public-private steering committee through One Sumter Foundation, a partnership was formed between Sumter County Schools, South Georgia Technical College (SGTC) and Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) and more than 100 regional companies and governments, that worked through 2017 and ’18 to secure a $3 million-plus grant. “In about 18 months … the volunteer committee members logged more than 200,000 hours of volunteer work involving more than 250 people. They also raised more than $8 million for the Ignite C&CA,” she said. She thanked Superintendent Choates, the board of education, GSW, SGTC, and the community for its leadership and commitment.

Many attendees at Thursday’s groundbreaking event Thursday took refuge underneath the tent.

Sumter County Board of Commissioners Chairman Clay Jones said he, his wife, and their three sons are all proud graduates of Americus High and Americus-Sumter High. He said that when new companies are looking to relocate or expand in a community, they are looking for an educated workforce. “ … With this new facility coming along, we’re going to have that,” he said. “The economy in this community is going to rise.”

Americus Mayor Barry Blount echoed Jones comments about the necessity of having an educated workforce. “Education is the key to economic growth and development, not only in this community but everywhere else … The college and career academy that we’ve embarked on will be another arrow in our quiver in competing with other communities.” He added that this community voted to tax themselves to build South Georgia Tech Parkway (TSPLOST) and the new high school (ESPLOST).

Superintendent Choates recognized more guests: Greg Smith, architect with James Buckley & Associates; Ricky McCorkle, executive director of RESA; Parrish Construction Group Inc.; David Kuipers and Wally Summers from SGTC; among others.

Sumter County BOE member Jim Reid presented a Leadership Award to Mary Beth Bass Brownlee, former executive director of the One Sumter Foundation, for her work in helping to make the Ignite C&CA a reality for the community.

Choates followed up by asking everyone to look at themselves and then look around. “This is what it takes for a school system, as well as a community to thrive. So, the question is, ‘can we make a difference?’” The crowd answered affirmatively. “You bet we can,” he continued. “But it’s going to take all of us working together not working against each other, not working apart, but working together. The ultimate goal is to make sure our students achieve, and to provide the best facilities we possibly put them in. We’ve got a dedicated board that’s worked hard night and day to make this happen.”
Following the groundbreaking by the Sumter BOE and Ignite C&CA board and partners, refreshments were served.