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Forsyth County Public Facilities Authority OKs funding for college, career academy

CUMMING — The Forsyth County Public Facilities Authority on Tuesday approved a $20 million funding resolution for the Alliance Academy for Innovation of Cumming-Forsyth County, a proposed college and career academy.

The resolution is a component of the partnership between the Forsyth County Public Facilities Authority, the city of Cumming and the Forsyth County Board of Education. The school will also be a grant collaboration with the state, and programs will be in partnership with the University of North Georgia and Lanier Technical College.

The authority, a county vehicle for funding construction of public facilities, will issue revenue bonds to pay for the school’s construction, though that likely won’t occur until winter.

“We approved a resolution supporting the school system for $20 million worth of revenue bonds to build the new academy, as had been presented for several meetings,” said Jerry Bowman, chairman of the authority.

“That approval is pending a change in the enabling legislation that has to take place at the state legislative session to clear up some confusing language.”

Although no longer bound to a $20 million project cap, which was in place at the time the authority was created, officials say they would feel more comfortable if they had a limit on costs toward taxpayers for future projects.

“We didn’t feel that it was in the best interest of our community to have this authority with unlimited bonding authority,” Bowman said.

During the meeting, the authority authorized a letter to the county commission requesting it to ask the state legislature impose a cap of $35 million per building during its 2016 session.

According to Bowman, the change won’t happen before the authority’s next scheduled meeting, in January, and that a called meeting would likely have to be held.

Plans call for the school, which would have about 1,000 students, to open by the 2018-19 school year.

Officials have said that including “academy” in the name acknowledges a curriculum of specialized study in a particular area.

Career pathways not found elsewhere in the system — each public high school has at least one career academy — would be offered with a focus on high-demand, high-growth and high-wage occupations

On-the-job training would be a focus, as would job simulations and high-tech discovery and invention centers, which brings the “innovation” aspect into play.

In a recent newsletter, the city of Cumming confirmed that the school site will be on Pilgrim Mill Road, near Lanier 400 Parkway, which is being extended from Pirkle Ferry Road.

The city plans to provide the land for the new school at a reduced cost, and has established water and sewer infrastructure the facility can use.

In a statement, Mayor H. Ford Gravitt said city officials believe "the development of a non-traditional college and career academy in Forsyth County will be good for students, employers, the community, and prospects for continued economic development.”

Approving the school is the first project for the authority, which was created in 2008 and first assembled in 2011.

“This is a historic meeting for us, as we’ve been meeting for as long as three minutes twice a year for the last several years,” Bowman joked. “We actually have finally conducted what looks like some business.”