The school system will build first and tear down later.

The Pierce County Board of Education agreed by consensus Thursday morning to proceed with design plans for a new agriculture complex and again delay the demolition of the old Pierce County High School.

No official vote was taken since the complex and the demolition are already part of long range plans for the system.

School superintendent Dara Bennett explained the system’s architect, SP Design Group in Macon, simply needed to know which project to start on next.

What exactly the ag complex will include remains to be seen. FFA advisors Seth Prescott and John Ratliff will be consulted on the plans.

Preliminary plans call for all of the agriculture related programs including the greenhouse, hog show arena and other projects be consolidated in one area.

Board Chairman Duward Boatright called for the inclusion of a new ag classroom, pointing out that grant funding could be obtained to build it.

Boatright and school superintendent Dara Bennett said the Bear Stadium and baseball and softball improvements will be completed before work begins on the ag complex.

“I will always be for whatever is best for our kids,” said first district board member Kirby Malone.

Malone and Board Chairman Duward Boatright both pointed out the old high school is not a pressing issue. Both noted the school system has finally gotten the monthly expense of maintaining the old school down to around $1,000 per month.

“We spend more than that on mowing the grass around here each month,” said third district board member Chip Griner.  

Since it was closed in January 2020, the school system has spent $120,366 maintaining the old building.

In January of this year, the board agreed to save the gym and front classroom of the old Pierce County High School and demolish the rest of the 40-year-old building.

Once design and planning work begins for the salvage/demolition project, SP Design will be tasked with doing the planning and engineering for electrical, plumbing, heating and air and structural aspects for saving the gym and front classroom and making them free-standing from the portion of the school that is to be torn down.

The debate over what to do about the old high school has been discussed since the opening of the new PCHS in January 2020.

Under the save-demolish decision, the gym will be saved for use as a practice facility for basketball, football, wrestling, cheerleading and other programs. The front classroom there will be the site of Gateway, the high school’s alternative school. Gateway is currently housed in mobile units behind the old high school, far removed and hidden from view of the new school.

The building is currently being used by the County 4-H’s shooting sports teams.

The remainder of the old high school building, including the academic, Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) wings, band room, cafeteria and auditorium will be torn down.  

The space the old school sat on will be converted to and maintained as a grassy area used for parking.

A total of $1.1 million for demolition of the old PCHS was included in the construction budget for the new high school.

The initial proposal in 2020 was to tear down the building at an estimated cost of between $530,000 and $708,000. The block and concrete would be sold to offset costs.

Previous estimates put the cost of saving the gym and front portion at almost $3.3 million. The additional $2.2 million needed to make the improvements and salvage the building will have to come from local funds. The school system no longer receives state funding for upkeep of the old PCHS.

The costs of these projects will be covered by a combination of education special purpose local option sales tax (ESPLOST) dollars and cash reserves from the school system’s general fund. The general fund monies have been freed up by assistance the system received as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act/American Rescue Plan (ARP) recently approved by Congress.