An aerial photo shows work done on Phase 1 of the Westover Road Extension project in Lee County, which was completed recently by Lee Public Works personnel.
LEESBURG -- While economists warn that the lingering recession will not entirely loosen its grip on Southwest Georgia in the immediate future, Lee County residents have a couple of reasons to look past the doom and gloom as they settle into 2012.
Construction has begun on a new elementary school being built at the intersection of Lover's Lane Road and Robert B. Lee Drive, while Public Works personnel has offered a glimpse of things to come by completing preliminary clearing work on the first section of the Westover Road Extension project in the southwestern portion of the county.
The new $14 million, 112,000-square-foot school, which is being funded by a special 1 percent local education tax and some $4.5 million in state funds, will allow county officials to alleviate substantial crowding at Lee County Middle School. That school, which houses all students in grades 6-8, is nearing capacity with almost 1,600 students, according to school officials.
Once the new school is completed, the Lee School System will use the current Lee Elementary School building on Firetower Road as a second middle school and re-zone elementary students to make access more convenient.
"The work that is being done right now is in preparing the site," Lee School Superintendent Larry Walters said Monday afternoon. "We have a meeting this evening, and if the school board votes to approve what is essentially a 'maximum cost' by Kinney Construction -- which we expect -- we'll move ahead with the actual construction of the project.
"We anticipate opening the school in August of 2013."
The completion of the Westover Road Extension from Ledo Road to Fussell Road, while only Phase 1 of a project that is scheduled to continue to Georgia Highway 32, is expected to open the door to future residential and commercial growth near the Lee/Dougherty line. In fact, Lee Planning and Engineering Director Bob Alexander noted Monday morning that Northstar LLC is looking at building condominiums along the extension that would look out over the Grand Island Club's golf course.
"The first step is rezoning that area from R-1 to R-2 and C-2 to allow for extended residential and commercial development," Alexander said. "That's expected to go before the Planning Commission this month.
"Then we'll use SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) V funds and $250,000 of the $340,000 the county gets in Local Improvement Maintenance funds from the Georgia Department of Transportation to finance the right-of-way improvements on the road project."
Lee Public Works' road crew did the preliminary "clearing and grubbing" work on Phase 1 of the Westover Extension over the last several days to clear the way for more extensive work that is set to start in March or early April.
"We're hoping to finish our work on Flowing Well Road (in the southeast quadrant of the county) by the end of February and put the paving part of that project out for bid by the end of March," Public Works Director Mike Sistrunk said Monday. "(County officials) felt it would be better to go ahead and do the preliminary work on the Westover Extension so that potential developers could have something of a diagram of what that project will look like.
"We have work to finish at Flowing Well and at Donald, David and Ragan (also in southeast Lee County), but we want to keep things in motion, keep building on the momentum we've got going."
Alexander said the Public Works crew's work has already saved the county thousands of dollars, and the workers have taken pains not to negatively impact property adjacent to the road projects.
"Our Public Works guys have already had a tremendous impact by being on top of these projects," the Planning and Engineering director said. "In addition to the work we've already planned, we anticipate them being involved in the work we'll do on the roads around the new school. The county's part of that project is to widen the roads to accommodate anticipated traffic flow at the school."
The Westover Road Extension project is designed to offer an alternate route between Lee County and the northwest Albany shopping district adjacent to the Albany Mall. Lee County's Phase 2 of the project, which is expected to be funding with SPLOST VI dollars in 2013, will extend the road from Fussell to Forrester Parkway, which is designed to become a key east-west corridor in the county.