Elected officials, county department heads and community leaders heard about the Educational Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax at breakfast Wednesday at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center.
The Eggs and Issues breakfast, sponsored by TQ Constructors Inc. and hosted by the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce, was the latest ESPLOST information meeting. Board of Education members have held ESPLOST the meetings since the end of March in different areas of the county.
Liberty County School Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee showed a video that highlighted projects funded by ESPLOST, such as the construction of the Liberty College and Career Academy, band towers for the high schools and security upgrades at schools. Lee then discussed initiatives that would be implemented if ESPLOST is renewed in the May 24 general primary election.
Lee said plans are to put hot spots on buses and park them in around the county. She told of an assistant principal leaving work and finding students hiding behind a hedge outside the school doing homework. The students did not have Internet access at home and were logged onto the school’s wireless network.
"We’re going to do this during the afternoon. It’ll be certain days that we’ll do this," she said. "I said six buses. Mr. Reese (chief financial officer) came back to me later, he already explored it further, and said, ‘Dr. Lee, we can do 12 buses for the same amount of money.’ So we’re going to be helping our kids."
She also mentioned placing hot spots strategically around schools in areas where Wi-Fi signals are weak.
Other ESPLOST plans include installing a Jumbotron at Donnell Woods Stadium, like the one at Hokey Jackson Stadium; improving access to the athletic fields at Liberty County High School; buying digital textbooks; upgrading administrative areas at elementary schools; and expanding the Performing Arts Center.
Lee said the PAC is rarely vacant and, "It’s the most widely used facility" in the county. Improvements can include expansion of the kitchen, conference room, theater, parking lot and adding a gymnasium to host athletic events.
Lee talked about students developing "21st-century skills" through the iPad initiative, also known as the Liberty Learning Experience. She said Apple has worked with the school system, and teachers will be able to use their iPads to manage all of their students.
"This is what the new ESPLOST will do for us. Teachers will be able to individualize learning — give you a particular app to work, you another one, you a different one, and see the progress through one iPad," she said. "So we want to continue empower our teachers."
At the beginning of the meeting, Tony Wright, the president of TQ Constructors, commended the school district on the quality of its facilities and grounds. TQ has done construction projects for the district and acted as a consultant. During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, Wright was asked about ongoing renovations at LCHS.
Wright said LCHS will have a renovated gym with new floors, paint, bleachers, locker rooms and scoreboards. The administration area will have new counters and renovated bathrooms. The ceilings in halls will be replaced, and there will be new tiles on the floor. There will be a new kitchen and the auditorium will have new curtains, lighting and state of the art sound system. The band and chorus rooms will also be renovated.
Lee said she hopes that renovations will be complete before school starts in August.
"Money in Liberty County is well-spent and well-preserved," she said. "We don’t buy stuff just for the sake of it. "
The current ESPLOST will expire June 30, 2017.