One of the hottest commercial areas in Columbia County is the nexus of Washington and Belair roads, ground zero for the area designated as the Evans town center.
Near-daily car crashes in this stretch of Washington Road are a symptom of the ever-increasing traffic moving through the intersection. That traffic increased dramatically with the opening of the nearby Wal-Mart Supercenter, and each passing vehicle adds to the commercial value of available land around the primary intersection.
Theres just one problem: the entire south side of Washington Road, on both sides of the intersection, is unavailable for development. Evans First Baptist Church owns one side, and Evans Middle School hunkers down on the other. Not only are the high-visibility parcels not available for development, but they pay no taxes, either.
Part of that could change. The church has no plans to go anywhere, and until recently school officials were locked into the nearly 50-year-old campus. But thanks to a recent ruling by the state Board of Education, Evans Middle students could one day be in a new school, and a valuable piece of commercial property could be on the tax rolls.
The state recently agreed to designate Evans Middles 18.5-acre campus as surplus property. That means Columbia County - which occasionally receives offers for the valuable site - could now sell the land and use the proceeds to help build a new middle school.
Weve been pleading with the state due to the location, the condition of the building and the commercial desirability of the property, says Superintendent Tommy Price. Theyve finally agreed that renovations to bring it up to par would be more than we would want to put into it, and they were willing to declare it surplus.
This is good news. Once a piece of property is in the hands of the state, it almost takes a miracle to convince Georgia officials to let the land go - even if the location has obviously outlived its usefulness and the building is worn out.
Some history: The campus was built in 1956 as part of an ambitious, countywide school-building program initiated by then-Superintendent John Pierce Blanchard. The new facility opened in 1957 to house Evans High School, replacing a school building that had burned in 1955. That building became what is now Evans Middle in 1980 when Evans High moved to its current location.
Blanchards building program produced seven other schools, including the facilities that currently house Harlem and Columbia middle schools and Evans Elementary, at a then-whopping cost of $1.3 million. But of all those old schools, only Evans Middle now sits on property whose potential value has skyrocketed.
A few years ago, this newspaper suggested that Evans Middle be sold for commercial use, with students getting the benefit of a badly needed new facility. Its nice to see the state finally agrees.
A footnote: Though abandoning the school could be years away, county officials are toying with the idea of retaining part of the Evans Middle building for use as centralized administrative offices.
Bad idea. Doing so would detract from the propertys value in the commercial market.
Its far better for the school system to start from scratch with a more-suitable piece of property in the Evans area. Taxpayers long ago approved $2 million in sales tax funds for a new central office, but word has it that some officials are now worried about being portrayed as building swanky new offices while some children still attend classes in portable buildings.
Thats silly. No one rationally expects the countys administration to stay in substandard facilities just to maintain an appearance of frugality.
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