The new school will be located off of Turnerwoods Road, and the entrance is approximately one-half mile from Morton Road. The Dec. 16 groundbreaking was well attended despite muddy conditions and an impromptu light shower that appeared as officials took up their shovels.
School Superintendent Jim LeBrun welcomed the crowd and stated that the event was a long time coming. He said the building is the result of a lot of work, planning, resources, vision and forethought.
“The key players are standing here with me,” he said, referring to Board of Education members and facilities and operations director Earl Colvin. “These individuals work as one and had to have the vision to look five, 10, 15 years ahead to get here.”
LeBrun said, when he began at Jones County, the student population was growing from 200 to 250 students a year. He said he and Colvin met with the state facility planner and realized the county’s two education priorities needed to be renovating the high school and building a new elementary school.
“The first task I gave Earl was to find the right property for a new elementary school, and he brought me here,” LeBrun said.
He said the first time he saw the property, the only access was a small ‘pig path’, but when he made it into the clearing he could see the new school sitting in the woods.
“This is a level location, and its proximity to Gray and our other schools makes it a perfect site,” the superintendent said.
LeBrun explained that the main roadway into the school is owned by the Board of Education, but the land on each side of the property belongs to neighbors.
“This school will be off the main road and in the woods. It can be a secure site,” he said.
LeBrun said the community had to pass the education SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), and he was pleased that it passed forcefully. The next step was to sell bonds.
“Selling bonds in today’s market is not an easy task, but our AA bond rating is unheard of. We were able to sell the bonds at a competitive rate,” he said.
LeBrun said that process took about 42 months, and he is hoping in another 15 months the BOE will be holding a ribbon cutting for the new school.
The superintendent gave special recognition to Colvin, who was retiring the day of the event.
“He was so instrumental in every school project in Jones County for the past 32 years. He was the point man and has been my right hand. He is very down to earth and a pragmatic leader. I don’t know what we’ll do without him,” LeBrun said. “In fact, I’m still trying to hire him back.”
LeBrun thanked the architects and contractors for their work on the new building. He also thanked the men that worked on the road so the ribbon cutting could happen. He said in the past two weeks the site has received seven inches of water, and it took 30 truckloads of rock to have the entrance road drivable.
“I can’t wait for you to see the new school. It’s going to be absolutely gorgeous,” he added.
LeBrun said the county received $5.5 million from the state for the new school and $2 million for the renovations to the high school.
“We also want to say a special thank you to Willie Fluellen for his 22 years of service to education in Jones County. I want to announce for any who have not heard that this entrance road into the new school will be named Willie Fluellen Drive,” he said.
Board of Education Chairman Ted Stone said he would like to thank the Board of Education members for working together so well.
“I thank the county commissioners for working with us. It’s nice knowing what is going on,” he said. “I’m proud to be in Jones County. It’s a good place to live.”