Gainesville now has two middle school campuses.
Gainesville Middle School West drew a sizable crowd of educators, parents and students, who flooded into the school after the ribbon cutting July 18 to see the modern school they will get to enjoy when the next school year begins in August.
The west campus is located in the McEver Road area and comes 14 years after the current middle school, now east campus, was built off Jesse Jewell Parkway.
“We’re going to put GMS West on the map,” declared the school’s inaugural principal Louis Mair, who seems to bring a kind of fresh flair to the school.
He doesn’t see “students,” he sees “scholars,” and he seemed particularly in-step with some of those “scholars” already, telling the school board that he will honor the wish of a group of students who want to start an anime club.
Mair was hired in June 2021, and he has spent the last year visiting schools around the district and building strong relationships with the staff who will join him next year.
“It still hasn’t hit me,” he said of the opportunity to lead the school.
The school was built mainly to eliminate overcrowding at Gainesville Middle School East, and that seemed to be the theme of the night. About half of the more than 1,600 students will transfer to the new school.
Sixth-grade English teacher Tara Mullett said Gainesville Middle School East was so overcrowded with students that she had to teach in closets without air conditioning for a year.
“The population at (Gainesville Middle School East) was so huge we couldn’t do a lot of fun stuff,” Mullett said. “We actually have space.”
Gainesville Middle School West is 185,000 square feet and cost about $38 million. The contractor was Carroll Daniel Construction, and the architect was Robertson Loia Roof.
The building exterior features columns and rock accents. On campus is a multi-purpose field for sports like soccer and football. Inside, students will find a gymnasium, a health sciences lab, a band area, a weight room and a construction lab.
The school is located at 1279 McEver Road in Ward 4 in the western part of the school district.
Ward 4 is represented by school board member Heather Ramsey.
“We’re so excited to eliminate the overcrowding at the existing middle school,” she said.
She echoed Mullett in saying that the new school will allow students “a lot more freedom,” for example, by giving them more opportunities to get involved in extracurricular activities.
Teachers, students, and school board members shared in the excitement of starting something new and building it from the ground up.
“I’m excited to see how this new school brings new life to our community,” said sixth-grade science teacher Gentry Thomas, who has taught at GMS East for three years.
Likewise, sixth grade math teacher Suzanne Levan spoke about the excitement of “creating our own culture.”
The students are excited as well.
“It’s really big,” said incoming eighth grader Alana Reyes when asked about the new school.
Her cousin, Jonathan Rodriguez, also an incoming eighth grader, described the school as “more modern, especially the library.”
With fewer students at the new school, Rodriguez expects shorter lunch lines and looks forward to participating in Fun Fridays, which had often “sold out” at Gainesville Middle School East before he had a chance to sign up. (Students would earn points for good behavior, he explained, which they could use to buy free time during their last class on certain Fridays.)
Fewer students will also translate into stronger relationships between students and teachers, said Superintendent Jeremy Williams.
“It will double the opportunity for students to be seen, to be heard,” he said. “For a new school, it already feels like home.”