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School systems building now for growth
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Enrollment projections suggest both the Hall County and Gainesville school systems could have a dramatic increase in their student populations over the next few years, and new schools are being built now to prepare for the expected growth.

Chestnut Mountain Elementary, the newest school in the Hall County school system, will open its doors to students for its very first day of school on Aug. 7. The new Gainesville Middle School, as well as a Hall County middle and high school complex in South Hall, are now under construction and slated to open in August 2009.

Chestnut Mountain Elementary School Principal Sabrina May said the school building on Union Church Road will open in place of the aging 40-plus-year-old Chestnut Mountain Elementary school on Winder Highway.

The new 93,000-square-foot school will house 740 kindergartners through fifth-graders this fall, May said. The school cost more than $13.2 million to construct, and boasts 48 classrooms in which to instruct a maximum of 900 students, making it the largest Hall County elementary school.

"The whole purpose of building this new school was to relieve overcrowding at Spout Springs Elementary and Friendship Elementary," May said.

She said 160 students formerly enrolled at Spout Springs Elementary will begin classes this fall at the new Chestnut Mountain Elementary, while about 200 students are leaving Friendship Elementary to fill classrooms at Spout Springs Elementary this August.

But the old Chestnut Mountain Elementary building won't stand vacant this fall. About 400 kindergarten and elementary school students will start dual-language classes at the World Language Academy housed there.

Students will also have the opportunity to learn Mandarin Chinese at the World Language Academy, Hall County's first charter school and first school of choice for parents countywide.

The Gainesville school system is also constructing a new school to accommodate its growing student population.
David Shumake, associate superintendent for the Gainesville system, said the city's new middle school under construction at 1525 Jesse Jewell Parkway is halfway finished.

"We see an increase in our Hispanic population, but it's occurring at all of our elementary schools," Shumake said. "All of the students from our elementary schools are funneling into our middle school. It's just another issue that we deal with, trying to accommodate all of our students."

He said the roughly 1,400 students currently enrolled at Gainesville Middle School on Woods Mill Road will start the 2009-2010 school year at the new middle school that will have a capacity of up to 2,000 students.

Shumake said the new middle school is a joint project with the city, with the middle school being adjacent to the new Frances Meadows Center. He said the total school project will cost nearly $33 million.

The old school is not in poor shape Shumake said.

"It's just too small to meet our needs," he said. "Long-range plans are to be able to utilize this facility for our ninth Grade Academy ... (but) that could change."

Ken Martin, former ninth Grade Academy principal at Gainesville High School, will become the head principal at Gainesville Middle School this year, and will also oversee the new sixth Grade Academy through its first year.

He said like the ninth Grade Academy, the sixth Grade Academy aims to make the transition from one school to another less stressful for students.

"The transition from elementary to middle school is a tough transition," Martin said. "We want to establish a smaller learning community to develop relationships and support for those children. ... We're taking five elementary schools and bringing them into one middle school, so this is developing peer relationships as well as student-teacher relationships."