VALDOSTA — The Lowndes County Board of Education chose its officers, reviewed end of year test results, and made plans to get renovation for Lowndes Middle School under way.

With the start of a new year came the decision of naming a board chairman and vice chairman. Members re-elected Mike Davis as board chairman and Jason Wisenbaker as vice chairman.

Superintendent Steve Smith shared graph presentations with board members displaying the 2005 end of course test results for the Lowndes High School. Students were rated for eight core subjects and compared to 10 surrounding schools and state averages. Lowndes High ranked favorably in each subject, having a higher percentage of students exceeding passing standards than RESA and the state average in each case.

After weeks of deliberation, the board voted to accept contract costs for the Lowndes Middle School renovation project, expected to begin in the summer.

Mike Powers had come before the board during the December work session to discuss plans for improving the school’s dining facility, campus security, parking and classrooms and facilities.

After receiving a bid for the project at a following meeting, however, the board decided to review the project in hopes of reducing unexpected costs.

“The prices came in a couple million more than we anticipated. We had Mike meet with the architects and contractors to discover ways to reduce the project,” Smith told the board.

Powers said that after reviewing plans with the group, he was able to find ways to redirect monies and still maintain the necessary renovations.

“If we purchase the kitchen equipment directly, rather than through the contractor, we can escape the overhead costs. That will give us $500,000 to direct toward another portion of the project,” Powers said.

The board had initially hoped to devote about $6.5 million to the project, but because of nationwide supply shortages due to the many natural disasters of 2005, supply costs are more expensive than ever. The December bid for the project was $8.4 million. Powers said that by escaping the proposed kitchen costs, he expects costs to table around $7.5 million or less.

“This project is designed to take care of all the needs of the school with complete upgrades,” Powers said.

The renovation project will also include an all electric kitchen and energy efficient equipment and insulation to maintain low operation costs.

The board voted unanimously to accept the project with the condition that it not exceed the current projection costs.

The board voted to accept two new prevention programs, “Talking about Touching” and “Project Alert.” The programs will be used in elementary and middle grades to inform students of the improper physical contact and the dangers and consequences of drugs, alcohol and tobacco use.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Board Member Fred Wetherington and Smith thanked the staff and PTO of Hahira Elementary for their compassionate response to the family of a third grade student, Marcel Gainer, 9, who passed away at his home over the weekend. Gainer had relocated to the area following Hurricane Katrina, and was soon after diagnosed with a brain tumor.

“He was a great little boy. He was always happy and smiling, and I never saw him down. This touches me because I have a daughter in the third grade, but I can say that am proud to be a part of Lowndes County seeing how the Hahira Elementary staff and PTO and the entire community came together to support that family,” Wetherington said.

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