John Pierce Blanchard would be impressed.
One of the greater legacies of Columbia County's legendary former school superintendent is the ambitious school building program he launched in 1954. The program built six new schools and added classrooms for two others at the almost-unheard-of cost of $1.17 million.
Included in that program were facilities now housing North Harlem Elementary and Harlem Middle schools; Columbia Middle; North Columbia Elementary; and Evans Elementary.
More than half a century later, upkeep of those schools is increasingly costly, and energy efficiency is nil.
Rather than continue to patch and spackle those facilities, or pour millions into substantial renovations, School Superintendent Charles Nagle this week unveiled a sweeping program to build, move and even consolidate those schools and at least three others.
The $148 million program, which includes capital improvements throughout the system, would replace seven school buildings and even close one school, shifting its students to two of the new ones.
Funding for the program would come from the next round of school sales taxes, state appropriations and money borrowed through bonds.
"It's aggressive," Nagle says. "There's going to be naysayers out there. But they've got to take the blinders off and look to the future."
Indeed, as Board Chairman Regina Buccafusco says, the proposal is a firm rejection of a frequent, if rarely deserved, criticism of the school administration: That they fail to adequately plan for the future.
Because most of the funding requires voter approval, school officials will need to spend time explaining the plan to the community. In 1954, Blanchard held a series of meetings to spell out his program - and the subsequent bond referendum received a staggering 95 percent voter approval.
No one could rationally expect such overwhelming voter endorsement of the current proposal, especially with the atmosphere poisoned by free-spending Washington politicians. But Columbia County citizens are smart enough that once they hear the details of this plan, most of them are sure to get on board.
Blanchard indeed would be impressed - and undoubtedly would approve.
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