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Rome is getting help with the federal directive to stop transporting students on city transit buses by the start of the next school year.

City Manager Sammy Rich told the City Commission Monday that the Georgia Department of Transportation is paying for a consultant to provide technical assistance. He said a conversation with Ray Boylston of RLS Inc. left him “cautiously optimistic” that Boylston can help get the deadline extended.

“He took issue with it just like we did,” Rich said, describing the August deadline as unrealistic. “The message is still the same, though: Y’all have to get out of the tripper business.”

The city wants to be able to keep the mainline and paratransit services operational, “but there’s a lot of logistical things to work out,” Rich said.

An updated implementation plan and timeline is due by May 3 to the GDOT. Options include selling the buses to the school system or contracting with a third party to provide school bus service.

The school system’s education local option sales tax package contains a small earmark for buses, but the allocation isn’t enough to start a new operation.

Rome students have been using the city’s tripper service for 35 years but a recent audit by the Federal Transit Administration determined it’s not an authorized use of the program.

Rich said he believes putting a plan in writing will help the FTA see that there’s not enough time to meet the deadline.

However, a Friday letter from GDOT Transit Program Manager Leigh Ann Trainer notes that, “Implementing a temporary solution while working to secure a permanent solution is one option that may assist to ease the transition.”

In other actions Monday, the City Commission approved a $4,976,500 contract for construction of six indoor courts at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College. It’s a guaranteed maximum price.

Project manager Tom Lawrence said he expects to have the permits in hand within a week or two. Crews with the general contractor, BM&K Construction & Engineering of Braselton, would start work immediately.

“They could finish by Feb. 1, 2020, which gives a month to condition the building before the ACC in April,” Lawrence said.

The center won the bid to host the 2020 Atlantic Coast Conference tennis championships, based on a promise that indoor courts would be available in case of rain.

Commissioners also held a public hearing on plans to designate the old Kmart site on Hicks Drive as a tax allocation district. No opposition surfaced and the board is scheduled to adopt the resolution at its May 13 meeting.

Wright Ledbetter of Ledbetter Properties said the tax break from the TAD “will help close the feasibility gap to move this project forward.”

Plans are to tear down the vacant Kmart building and redevelop the site as a retail center. Ledbetter said he expects it to house 20 to 28 new businesses, most of them new to Rome.

Work is tentatively scheduled to start this summer.