Tuesday, December 01, 2009

1 DEC 09: Palace Promenade

It had been decades since I attended a school open house. The last one I remember was in eighth grade - when Unified Studies teacher Ms. Loveless posted on the bulletin board my haiku called "Ode to a Politician":

I will give you all

What you have always wanted

After I get paid.

But the open house I attended Monday evening was a little different. It was the reception and dedication for the new Muscogee County Public Education Center on Macon Road. Let's get one rumor out of the way right now - the Superintendent and School Board did NOT eat caviar, or cut a gold-plated cake.

For some reason, Muscogee County School officials decided to have the dedication ceremony in the lobby of the Public Education Center. Everyone had to stand, where they most could have sat inside the board meeting room - and that fancy vote scoreboard wasn't even on display in there.

Before giving the invocation, Pastor Marlin Scott said visitors driving down Macon Road now can see the Public Education Center next to the main library, and "see that Columbus values education." Then they'll move on to see the empty storefronts next to Kmart, and wonder if the city overvalued businesses with taxes.

(Then Pastor Scott prayed for God's blessing on the school board "in Jesus's name." Let's see him try that in a school classroom at the start of today's session.)

"I cannot begin to tell you how charmed I am by this day," said School Board Chair Philip Schley during the dedication. Charmed?! This is what happens when the library system orders dozens of Harry Potter books....

Dr. Philip Schley described the new "McPEC" (as we've come to call it) as a "dignified, scholarly-looking building." Superintendent Susan Andrews later said someone compared it to a building in Washington, D.C. She meant the look of it - not the use of expensive bond issues to build it.

Philip Schley admitted other school boards considered it a bad time to build a new administration building - "but we took the bit in its mouth and forged ahead." Schley may have been thinking about horses, but critics of the McPEC will have another animal in mind....

Both the school board chair and superintendent thanked Columbus taxpayers, for making the McPEC possible. But I'd guess at most, only about 200 people showed up for Monday night's dedication and open house. The Columbus Tea Party didn't even march outside, to protest the building's cost.

The moving process to McPEC apparently is almost finished. Superintendent Susan Andrews declared "260 of us are now in this building -- with all our stuff." After looking around the three-story building, I didn't realize so many staff members had large high-definition TV sets to fit inside.

Each floor of the McPEC has conference rooms at opposite ends. One of them on the first floor has a long wooden table - and not one large flat-screen TV, but two. But that contraption in the middle of the table is used for conference calls. It only looks like something from an X-Box game.

I admittedly had an advantage over most of the other people attending the open house. I had three pages of giant "maps" of the building. In fact, they were much larger than any single guy is supposed to use....

This blog was first to disclose details of the McPEC layout almost two years ago [25 Dec 07]. It was based on preliminary schematic drawings - so I took them to Monday night's open house, to see if the final project matched the outline. In many ways it does. But I wished the building had the same grand staircase the library has, to avoid using elevators.

Working from the bottom up: the McPEC has the proposed ten offices for psychologists on the first floor. But the Director of Programs for Exceptional Students explained there actually are 19 staff psychologists, with two sharing an office. Isn't this amazing? After spending millions of dollars, some staff members still have to double up.

Peggy West told me Muscogee County Schools need 19 staff psychologists because "we have a lot of poverty," and trained people are helping troubled children stay out of special education classes. West added most of the psychologists are funded through state grants - which will lead critics to wonder why the McPEC couldn't have been funded the same way.

On the second floor, the preliminary plans didn't match the final product. I found Research Director Carol Bradshaw in a corner office, with a nice view of Macon Road. "They moved me four times," Bradshaw said of the planning process. When I was in grade school, the teacher usually settled for twice a term.

Then came the third floor, and the big question which was on my mind since I obtained the schematics. Did the superintendent's new office really have an executive washroom? While Susan Andrews wasn't there, secretary Wanda Cline confirmed she does. One former superintendent might have used it to hide from TV interviews.

"It's small," Wanda Cline said of the superintendent's private bathroom - but Susan Andrews "is proud of it. She says it's the first time she's had one since she was a principal." Wow - next time your school has an open house, don't stop simply at the room with your child's teacher.

Some staff members are happy the new McPEC has nice bathrooms of any kind. Information Technology Director Don Hall told me he had to walk outside the Roberts Center on Brown Avenue to use a bathroom - and that restroom was open "to the community" around the clock, seven days a week. Of all the ways to stay in close contact with the people you're serving....

Don Hall says the health of some people has improved, with the move to McPEC. Other staff members say they're able to work harder each day. So there - isn't the fancy new building on Macon Road worth all that money? Or will Bert Coker and Paul Olson show up at the next school board meeting, offering discounts on hand sanitizers?

The only real critic of Muscogee County Schools I spotted in the crowded lobby Monday was State Senate candidate Josh McKoon. When I asked what he thought of McPEC, he answered: "I wish they'd spend another $100,000 to air-condition it."

After taking a self-guided tour of the new administration building, I knew the appropriate place to go for dinner -- and it's less than a mile away. But amazingly, the Taj Mahal Indian restaurant on Auburn Avenue was closed Monday night. Perhaps the staff realized it was going to be upstaged....

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: We'll have more from the open house Wednesday, as we talk with a controversial former school leader.)

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Check "On the Flop!" <--

E-MAIL UPDATE: Today is a "big switch" day in Columbus radio, and one reader is unhappy about it....


I am disappointed that PMB Broadcasting has decided to move the Truth format to 88.5. 88.5 is not a Columbus signal - it is a Eufaula signal, with a tower at the southern edge of Stewart County. This station will never have a good Columbus signal because it is boxed in by Atlanta's WRAS on 88.5 and Auburn's WELL on 88.7. In North Columbus, 88.5 is static filled. To make matters worse, the signal sounds heavily compressed with digital artifacting.

J93.3 has a new application to increase power, but I don't know how well it will be received in Columbus.



WTMQ at 88.5 FM actually claims to be a "Lumpkin-Columbus" station. But I also noticed the other day that in northern Muscogee County, the signal is shaky. I'd borrow a Bible verse about the station being "blown about with every wind of doctrine" - except it doesn't put that many preachers on the air.

(Frustrated radio listeners probably will listen to "The Truth" online, anyway. The web site had not been changed Monday night, to reflect the new dial position. But how else did young worshipers learn the hip songs they play at Cascade Hills Church, before recent years?)

Thomas admittedly stumped me with his claim that WTMQ's signal has "digital artifacting." That sounds like something they ought to do on the TV series "Bones."

So what happened to WBOJ? At 12:00 midnight it became "Lite FM," playing nothing but Xmas music. So it looks like Columbus radio listeners now have a choice - have things "Sunny" or simply turn on a Lite.

We're holding another e-mail for this coming weekend, so now let's quickly wrap up the Monday news....

+ The U.S. Supreme Court turned down the latest appeal of convicted "Stocking Strangler" Carlton Gary. I think Gary is now only three appeals away from getting a sequel to the book "The Big Eddy Club."

+ WLTZ presented its monthly Community Green award to the Georgia Clean Air Campaign. This decision struck me a bit like giving the Ledger-Enquirer an award for being local newspaper of the month.

+ Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney endorsed Kay Ivey for Alabama Governor. Given the news of the last 48 hours, anyone endorsed by Mike Huckabee probably will drop out of the race immediately.

+ The Atlanta Falcons announced quarterback Matt Ryan will miss Sunday's game against Philadelphia, due to turf toe. So Michael Vick will get to see what life was like in Atlanta, immediately after he went to prison.

+ An era ended at Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta, as TBS effectively fired baseball announcer Chip Caray. His late father Skip called Atlanta games for more than 30 years. Chip was part of the TBS broadcasting team for five years. Now no one is left to.... well, you know.... Caray on.

+ Instant Message to Fort Middle School: I didn't realize until Monday's big reception that your school has a ballet program. Talk about changing times! When I was young, our physical education class only had square dancing - and I thought "pas de deux" was that TV actress.

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