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Looking Ahead: Schools prepare for a year of expansion

New buildings will dominate the area's educational landscape

POSTED: December 30, 2008 12:31 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

Work continues on the new Flowery Branch High School being built on Spout Springs Road, which is set to open in 2009. The current Flowery Branch High campus will house eighth- and ninth-graders when the new school opens.

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Construction is the name of the game for local schools and colleges in 2009.

As both the Gainesville and Hall County school systems open new schools in August, system leaders are keeping their fingers crossed that no unexpected state budget cuts will trickle down as they equip the schools and get classes started.

Merrianne Dyer, superintendent of Gainesville schools, said the new Gainesville Middle School on Jesse Jewell Parkway is nearly finished and likely will be completed within its $33 million budget. The new school will absorb the old middle school’s nearly 1,400 students, and has a 2,000-student capacity.

Dyer said the old Gainesville Middle building on Woods Mill Road will be used to house the system’s nine pre-kindergarten classes, Gainesville High School’s JROTC program and the system’s international and alternative learning centers. The shuffling of programs to the old building will free up about 20 classrooms in Gainesville elementary schools.

As for the system’s troubled budget, Dyer said the school system in April will receive its state audit for fiscal year 2008, which ended June 30. The audit will produce a definitive deficit figure with which the Gainesville school board can then use as a guide to chip away at the system’s deficit, now estimated at $5.8 million.

“It’s tough because of the economy, but we’ve got to stay on course there,” she said. “... There will be personnel cuts. We pray retirement and attrition will take care of that.”

For Hall County schools, the new $36.5 million Flowery Branch High School off Spout Springs Road will open in August. The new school has a 1,500-student capacity and will house 10th- through 12th-graders. The current Flowery Branch High will reopen as the Flowery Branch Eighth and Ninth Grade Academy, combining eighth-graders who have traditionally attended C.W. Davis Middle School with ninth-graders. C.W. Davis will be used to educate sixth- and seventh-graders.

As the Hall County school system prepares to open the new Flowery Branch High this summer, construction will be under way for an addition to the Lanier Career Charter Academy. Earlier this month, the state awarded Hall County schools and Lanier Technical College a joint $3.1 million grant to construct a culinary arts school and public bistro at the academy. The grant will also be used to expand the academy’s medical science and digital media programs.

Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County schools, said several schools are applying for charter school status this year. Sardis Elementary is applying for a schoolwide enrichment charter. Martin Elementary is applying for a science, technology, engineering and math charter while McEver Elementary is applying for a fine arts charter.

Higher-education institutions are also expanding their scope.

Gainesville State College President Martha Nesbitt said construction on the Oakwood college campus’ fifth academic building could begin as soon as January. The building will primarily house classrooms, offices, computer labs and the college’s humanities and business faculty.

Since enrollment was capped at the college’s Oconee campus, Nesbitt said enrollment at the Oakwood campus has grown 16 percent in the past three years.

“Because we’ve had so much growth in enrollment, we’ve never been able to keep up with the faculty,” she said.

Nesbitt said she’s appealing to the state legislature to come through with enough funding to hire 30 new full-time professors at the college.

Brenau University President Ed Schrader said the school hopes to open a whole new campus in southwest Atlanta by fall 2009. Schrader said the new campus will offer business, teacher education and nursing programs.

He said plans are also in the works to construct several new buildings on the Gainesville campus and expand services and facilities on the university’s Atlanta campus. Schrader said he hopes the economy will rev back up this upcoming year to allow the university to kick off its $50 million capital campaign to fund construction and the medical education programs.

While most schools are building from the ground up in 2009, North Georgia College & State University spokeswoman Kate Maine said the Dahlonega school is set to use $16 million in state funds to renovate multiple buildings on campus, some of which were built in the 1930s. Maine said the funds are slated for approval in the upcoming legislative session.

The renovations could allow the school’s old library to be converted into a student services center and for significant improvements to be made in several office buildings, she said.

Maine said the school is also considering building more student housing. With 5 percent enrollment growth this year over last at the university and military college, she said the school’s goal is to construct housing for 300 new cadet beds and 600 new civilian student beds by 2010.

The dormitory additions tie into the school’s larger goal of producing 100 new officers a year by 2015, which would double the school’s current officer turnout.



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