The Gainesville and Hall County school systems will go full swing in 2008 building three schoolhouses estimated to cost a combined $74 million.
First to open will be the 92,500-square-foot, 900-student Chestnut Mountain Elementary School off Union Church Road, about a mile south of Winder Highway, in South Hall. The school is set to open in August.
The new school will lighten the load of students at ever-growing Spout Springs and Friendship elementary schools.
Hall County schools Superintendent Will Schofield has said he expects the school board will approve redrawing attendance boundary lines in January, but no later than February, to accommodate the new school.
More than a dozen area residents spoke in opposition last month, for various reasons, to the board's proposal. The plan includes moving Sterling on the Lake from the Friendship district to Spout Springs and Riverstone Park from the Spout Springs district to Chestnut Mountain.
Hall County also is building a $30 million middle and high school complex off Spout Springs Road, diagonally from Spout Springs Elementary, to relieve growth from nearby Flowery Branch High and Davis Middle schools.
When finished in 2009, at 252,000 square feet and a capacity for 1,800 students, it will be the largest school ever built in the Hall system.
The school system also plans to convert the current Chestnut Mountain school, which is off Winder Highway about a mile northeast of Ga. 211, into the World Languages Academy. The school, which possibly could hold state charter status when it opens in fall 2008, would feature a "dual-languages immersion" program enabling students to learn regular academic subjects in Spanish and English.
The school plans to schedule informational sessions in early 2008 offering details for the program.
"The sessions will share the research, as well as what a day would (be) like, for a child at each of the grade levels," said David Moody, director of elementary schools.
Moody will serve as the school's principal in the 2008-09 school year. "In addition, the search for highly qualified personnel to join the team has begun and staffing will take place throughout the spring," he said. "We will evaluate curriculum materials, scheduling opportunities and facility preparation with technology and other instructional resources."
The Gainesville school system is building its $33 million, 210,000-square-foot middle school to replace the current building at 715 Woods Mill Road. The school is set to open in August 2009.
The 1-cent sales tax program in each of the school districts is paying for all the construction projects.
Also, the city school system is looking to build a sixth elementary school, Mundy Mill Academy, in the Mundy Mill residential and commercial development off Mundy Mill Road, in fall 2009.
The school system needs the sixth elementary school to relieve overcrowding. Modulars, or portable classrooms, are now being used to ease student populations. "I don't think we can afford to wait on Mundy Mill," Gainesville schools Superintendent Steven Ballowe told the City Board of Education in December. "We may have to increase some class sizes in second, third, fourth and fifth grades next year, but I think we can handle that for a year."
Ballowe has asked the school board to put off some $2.5 million in projects to better prepare the district for the costs of the new Mundy Mill school. He estimates that the district will need $3 million on top of money from the state and the district's 1-cent sales tax program to pay for the new elementary school.
Area colleges also are feeling growth's pinch.
Martha Nesbitt, president of Gainesville State College in Oakwood, said the college is seeking an exemption from a state rule banning the use of portable classrooms on campus. "We have a desperate need for space," she said in a meeting last month with area legislators.
College officials are hoping for the legislature's approval this year of a long-term construction plan for the University System of Georgia. If the plan is approved, Gainesville State would get funding in fiscal 2008-09 for planning and design of a new classroom building and money the following year for construction.
Mike Moye, president of Lanier Technical College in Oakwood, is hoping lawmakers vote to set aside $15 million for additional career academies. This year, the state awarded funds to school systems forming partnerships with local technical college to start up the academies as charter schools.
Moye and Schofield both have said they would seek a grant if more money is set aside next year.
Brenau University in Gainesville is waiting on the results of a study to see whether it and the Gainesville-Hall County area can support a medical school.
The college's president, Ed Schrader, said he's looking for a draft report about Jan. 15 from Lexington, Ky.-based DJW Associates, which conducted the study. Brenau's Board of Trustees will discuss the report in the spring. Dr. Emery A. Wilson, principal in DJW, has said that Brenau might have to spend up to $35 million to start a medical school, but that the economic impact to the area could be at least $100 million.