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School board weighs architectural options
BoE considering three firms for new middle school
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The Bryan County School district may soon have a new architectural firm planning its endeavors, starting with the new Richmond Hill Middle School.

The discussion came during a Board of Education called meeting on Monday, Jan. 14, when the board met with two prospective architectural firms as well as the firm they currently use, to discuss plans for the RHMS. The new middle school, and possibly a high school, will be built on a 98.05-acre tract of land near I-95 and Belfast Siding Road, thanks to Rayonier’s donation of the land to the school district in December.

"We couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present," board Vice President Frances Meeks said of the tract.

The board decided earlier this year to check out other architectural options for developing future plans. On Monday, John A. Tuten and Associates of Brunswick; Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung, headquartered in Savannah; and James W. Buckley and Associates, which is the district’s current firm with offices in Savannah and Swainsboro, all came to give presentations on why they should design the RHMS.

Tuten has created schools in Glynn, Toombs, Macintosh, and Lyons Counties, among other projects. He told the board his team would give the district their full attention and illustrated their plans, which feature plenty of room for expansion and oversized core areas, separate bus and parent entrances, and individual heating and cooling units.

"We are school experts," he said, noting that, because the firm is small, it would allow them room to provide the service the district deserves.

Robert Armstrong and Tim Williams of Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung presented information on their 50-year-old firm next.

They touted their ability to offer most services in-house for a project and provided examples of a number of schools done in the same districts in region. Their costs vary depending on how expensive the school itself will cost, which Armstrong estimated to be at least $20 million for the RHMS.

"We are local and committed to you," Armstrong said.

Craig Buckley, who the school has been working with since 2002, said his firm does 80 percent educational projects.

"This is the bread and butter by which Buckley and Associates has become known in Georgia," he said.

Buckley’s firm also offers a number of in-house services, registered architects and a civil engineering department. He said they always have at least one representative visiting a project on a daily basis.

"I’m a workaholic, I go through every single drawing to make sure everything is right," he said, noting that his firm is the best for the job because they offer more experience and prototype designs. "We consider ourselves a part of the Bryan County School System."

Buckley presented a preliminary design for the RHMS site.

He created a prototype pinwheel design school for both a middle and high school on the tract.

"You’ve got plenty of room to do whatever you need," he said, giving them an estimate of $125 per square foot, with an estimated 145,000 square feet needed to house 1,500 students in the new RHMS.

Before the meeting ended, Brian Ubell talked to the board about SPLOST bonds. Ubell, of A.G. Edwards, said the board needs to decide fairly quickly how much they need and which projects will be funded by bonds.

While he said more than one bond can be taken out, he recommended the bond totals be estimated by early February. School Finance Director Melanie James said the district already has $5 million allotted for the school from SPLOST I, leaving a bond for about $15 million more.

The board consensus was to visit different examples and decided Tompkins and Ebenezer Middle Schools, by Buckley; and West Chatham and Georgetown Elementary Schools, by Hussey, Bell, Gay and DeYoung will be seen on Jan. 23.

The board will vote on which architectural firm will develop the plans for the new RHMS on Thursday, Jan. 24.

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