A Carrollton doctor is concerned that his plan to build a molecular coronavirus testing lab will not happen after city officials delayed a meeting to discuss the project until this summer.
Dr. Brent Harris, a family medicine doctor who owns US MedClinic, is proposing to set up a lab to test samples for the coronavirus in the former George Washington Carver High School at 302 Martin Luther King Jr. St.
A special called meeting had been scheduled for today to rezone the building to office space from multi-family. But city officials then canceled the meeting Monday morning to allow time for residents to voice their opinions and to follow normal zoning procedures.
Anyone who has concerns can call or email city officials with questions about the proposal.
Harris said postponing the meeting until the summer delays an “already difficult and time-sensitive issue.” On Tuesday, he said he thinks it is “not a good idea” to have any public meetings in a month, and he predicted that public gatherings might not happen for the rest of the year going into next.
“I think there’s going to be massive restrictions on public gatherings, and I think it’s going to be the new normal for the next one to two years,” he said.
The Carroll County NAACP and surrounding residents have voiced their concerns about how the lab might affect neighbors. The NAACP requested that city officials postpone the meeting, according to a Facebook post by the organization on Monday night.
Community Development Director Erica Studdard said in an email on Monday the city’s planning commission will review Harris’ plans in May so that the city council can decide on the proposal in June.
Harris said that while he understands the city’s decision, he added the facility will not hurt the local community if officials are taking safety into consideration. His plan is to build a “molecular diagnostics lab,” meaning no animals would be experimented upon.
The building that would house the lab is a segregation-era school, which existed from 1954 to 1968, and is cherished by former students such as Carolyn Gray. But the lab also would go near a community that has a population that has been shown to be affected more by the coronavirus.
Gray, a historian of the school, said she did not know Harris bought the building and added the former school had been promised to her and a group of alumni by a former city schools superintendent. Alumni would like a Carver High museum to be established there.
Harris purchased the former school in March 2019 from the Community Action for Improvement (CAFI) nonprofit based in LaGrange. The building was given to CAFI in 2017 by Carrollton City Schools.
However, county tax records have not been updated to show he purchased the facility and currently say CAFI owns the building. Harris said it can take longer than a year for tax records to reflect the purchase on some buildings and called this a “legal failure.”
“It’s unfortunate, I think, from a city leadership standpoint because the Department of Public Health is looking for additional testing facilities to run samples in our district,” Harris said. “That’s the entire west Georgia district, District 4. They are looking for additional diagnostic capacity.”