Former jail site expected to become multi-family development

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Feb. 17—The Dalton Board of Education approved the sale of the former Dalton Correctional Center on Monday to the Dalton-Whitfield County Joint Development Authority.

The board members voted 4-0 — Tulley Johnson was absent — to sell the property for $580,000, although the technical sale price was $600,000, said Theresa Perry, Dalton Public Schools' chief financial officer. Atlanta-based developer Wood Partners has already made $20,000 in payments.

Wood Partners plans to create a multi-family development on the site, "hopefully sooner rather than later," said Carl Campbell, executive director of the Dalton-Whitfield Joint Development Authority. "I'm really excited about a nice development for our community that likely will (have) lots of young professionals living in the downtown area."

The old jail, at 501 W. Waugh St., was traded by the city of Dalton to Dalton Public Schools more than a decade ago in exchange for the school system moving its central offices from 100 Hamilton St. to City Hall, where they remain, Perry said.

"We've used it nominally for storage and parking, but not much beyond that, (because) it's designed for a jail."

First, the board members voted 4-0 to designate the site as surplus property, then to authorize Superintendent Tim Scott to sell it to the Joint Development Authority, which plans to transfer it to Wood Partners.

"Regarding the actual apartments, they are still in the design phase for now, but hope to finish that soon," Campbell said. "They have not closed on the property yet, but hope to do so in the coming months. Their desire would be to start demolition after closing and commence construction this year. Material shortages and cost inflation are an ever-changing landscape right now that can cause delays, but they are continuing to make progress and move forward. I am hopeful that we see lots of progress on the site soon."

"Glad to see it go," said Palmer Griffin, vice chairman of the school board.

Campbell is pleased to "get that off your plate," he said. The school system can use funds from the sale for other projects, such as renovations this summer at sites like Dalton High School.

The jail was closed two decades ago when the current jail at 806 Professional Blvd. opened. It was later used as the site of Dalton Municipal Court, but the county building inspector's office ordered the building closed in 2011 because of issues with the electrical system and plumbing.

The site is 4.5 acres. The building on Hamilton Street the city received in exchange for the jail site is now leased to the Carpet and Rug Institute and the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce for their headquarters.

Construction costs

After bids for a potential field house at Hammond Creek Middle School came in higher than expected, Dalton Public Schools is temporarily tabling the project and preparing to possibly scale back planned improvements at Dalton High School due to high costs, as well.

Bids for the field house ranged from $1.5-1.8 million, with construction costs per square foot more than double what's been typical during Rusty Lount's decade as the school system's director of operations, he said during Monday's school board work session.

"That's just where the price of materials (and labor) have gone."

Consequently, renovations at Dalton High planned for this year — from seating and lighting for the turf field to replacing gym lockers to parking lot repaving — will likely be more expensive than anticipated, Lount said. Therefore, certain pieces of the project could be prioritized over others, as "some areas are more critical than others," particularly regarding safety.

ESPLOST

The school board plans to seek voter approval for another Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) May 24, and the current ESPLOST the school system shares with Whitfield County Schools is running well ahead of projected revenues.

Improvements to Park Creek School, Roan School, Westwood School and the building most recently utilized as Morris Innovative High School will be specifically named in the referendum, but funds could also be used at other schools if necessary, Perry said. Adding classrooms and improving heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) at Roan could cost roughly $7 million, a half-dozen additional classrooms at Westwood School could be approximately $3 million, and roof and HVAC upgrades at Park Creek School potentially $9.5 million.

The maximum amount to be collected by ESPLOST VI would be $140 million, of which Dalton Public Schools would receive a maximum of nearly $52 million, or 37%, with the rest for Whitfield County Schools, Perry said. Percentages are based on enrollment of the two systems, and Dalton Public Schools currently has 7,779 students, which is up a dozen from this same point last year.

A SPLOST is a 1% sales tax on most goods sold in a county. School systems typically use their version to finance work like renovating current schools and building new ones.

The current five-year ESPLOST in Whitfield County has a maximum collection of $98 million, and that figure could be reached, as accumulated revenues are currently $2.8 million higher than projected over the course of the first four years of ESPLOST V, Perry said. January's revenues, which are based on December's sales tax activity, set a new monthly record, at $814,000, 38% higher than expectations.

Staff writer Charles Oliver contributed to this story.