Sunday, Mar. 19, 2023–12:05 a.m.
-John Bailey, Rome News-Tribune-
The Rome City Commission will revisit discussions concerning the backing of approximately $103 million in construction bonds for the Rome Middle School amid concerns about the cost of the project.
During a finance committee meeting this week, Rome City Commissioner Craig McDaniel entered a motion to bring the issue back before the full commission.
“I want clarification of how much we’re taking on,” McDaniel said Friday. “I want every city commissioner to have a clear understanding (of the costs) before they vote yes or no.”
McDaniel was backed by City Commissioner Jamie Doss in the committee vote which passed. Doss said he would like to make sure the full commission understands the financial scope of the project and how they’re going to fund it.
“Given the enormous price tag of the school, I do not have a problem revisiting the funding of Rome Middle School,” Doss said.
Commissioners will discuss the funding during an extended pre-meeting caucus on March 27 beginning at 4:30 p.m. prior to the regular commission meeting.
In January, the commission voted unanimously to back bonds to construct a new middle school after a two-hour-long debate.
The total estimated building cost of a new school on Three Rivers Drive, across Veterans Memorial Highway from the existing one, is $119 million. That figure does not include school equipment and other costs. To fund it there is approximately $16 million coming from state capital outlay funds on top of a voter-approved education special purpose local option sales tax that will fund $54 million of the facility over time. The city is backing bonds for just over $103 million in the project.
The ultimate cost of the building itself, under the bond terms approved by the commission in January, with included interest would — total approximately $145 million to $147 million.
That facility will house sixth through eighth grades, moving sixth graders out of the elementary school buildings to alleviate overcrowding. If that were to happen today, using current enrollment numbers, that would raise the RMS enrollment to 1,443 students.
The plan is for a school that could be upsized to house 2,000 students. The new school would also be purpose-built to allow expansion for another 500 students.
A rough breakdown of the total cost of building a new middle school, provided by the school system is $63 million for new school construction, $10 million for a C wing storm shelter, $4 million for an auditorium and $25 million for an athletics wing — for a total of roughly $102 million. That athletic wing also includes an art room, band room and areas for other extracurricular activities.
Additional parts of the build include synthetic turf baseball and football fields alongside concession stands and bathroom facilities. Those facilities would include a 1,000-seat home grandstand and 500-seat visitor bleachers for the football field, and baseball bleachers with seats for 100 home and 50 visitors.
At this point, the additional athletics facilities — and costs therein — are a point of contention in the City Commission.
The school system’s plan to pay for the middle school relies on the passage of potentially three more education SPLOST measures. If future education SPLOST referendums don’t pass, it could lead to a property tax increase for city residents of 5 to 6 mills.
Bill Camp with Raymond James, a bond advisor representing the City of Rome, will be on hand to answer questions about the funding of the project. During the January discussion Camp told commissioners that the financial picture for the overall project looks good. Bond rates can change, but have remained low, while construction costs are continuing to increase. However, the city has shown a healthy sales tax increase, boosting the education SPLOST collections.
This story is possible because of a news-sharing agreement with the Rome News-Tribune. More information can be found at northwestgeorgianews.com.