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Schools look to renovate, build as local population grows

POSTED: June 13, 2013 1:40 a.m.

Local school systems were no different than many businesses during the economic sluggishness over the recession.

“Certainly, going from picking up 600 to 1,000 kids a year to around zero in 2008 is 100 percent economy-related,” said Hall Schools Superintendent Will Schofield.

While growth slowed, both Hall County and Gainesville City school systems have experienced modest student growth rates over the past few years, and expect that trend to continue.

For the Gainesville system, that growth has been around 300 new enrolled students per year for the past five years, with the total enrollment after the 2012-13 school year sitting at 7,423.

That is consistent with Hall County schools’ growth rate, with that system’s enrollment sitting at 26,543 and averaging approximately 330 new students per year.

These data were pulled from the Georgia Department of Education’s enrollment numbers, as of March 1, 2013.

“We have been so thankful that we have not lost enrollment,” said Superintendent Merrianne Dyer, who pointed to schools in the Northeast and Midwest that have seen several students move out of their districts, especially as their parents tried to find jobs in the Southeast.

She did say that growth in Gainesville schools is much smaller than it was before the recession hit in 2008.

“We were growing, anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of students a year, for several years,” she said. “So it did slow down.”

Dyer said that the job growth rate was probably the biggest contributing factor in determining the rapidness of the growth.

But while the growth rate is slower, plans are in place for the city school system to expand.

“All of our schools are beyond capacity,” she said.

The newly-renovated Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School is scheduled to open in October, which should provide relief to both the middle school and Gainesville High School, Dyer said.

And plans are in motion for the future Mundy Mill Elementary School to be built in 2015-16.

“We’ll start working with the people that live in that area,” she said. “We’ll have focus groups with them starting in September, talking about the magnet program they would prefer to see there.”

Once built, Mundy Mill is expected to provide relief to Gainesville Elementary School. The original plan was for it to be built in 2007, Dyer said, but there was no funding for it at the time.

“It’s probably a good thing that it didn’t (get built),” she added. “However, we could have used the space, and we have the enrollment (for it).”

Unlike the Gainesville system, Schofield believes Hall County schools have room to breathe in the foreseeable future, with their challenge being the age and condition of the current schools.

“We have enough seats to put our kids in,” he said, estimating that there are around 500 to 1,000 empty seats across the system. “So that’s a good thing for us at this point, because it gives us some options and lets us focus on renovations.”

Schofield said that several county schools are in need of renovations, mentioning East Hall and North Hall high schools.

“They both have turned 60 years old,” he said, “and both have had some significant needs when it comes to renovations.”

Both Dyer and Schofield said they think the student growth rate will continue to increase.

“I’d say we’re back up to 70 percent of where we used to be (before the recession),” Schofield said.

Dyer thinks growth is soon to pick up in the Gainesville system.

“The city of Gainesville has almost all of the federally subsidized housing, and the midwage jobs, industry and construction,” she pointed out. “And we have most of the apartments, so we have very dense housing. So when people move and come to work in Gainesville, they usually begin living in the city. So we could see a big jump.”


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