Growth seems to be back in South Hall County, and that is likely to lead to a “re-shuffling” of schools to accommodate current and anticipated enrollment. Redistricting to provide for a seventh high school district also is part of the plans.
School officials emphasized that redistricting decisions do not have to be done quickly because moving the schools would not occur until the 2018-19 year. At the same time, meetings with staff members about the school changes and redistricting have started — and public meetings for parents are expected to begin late this spring.
“Nobody likes redistricting. It’s always painful,” said Will Schofield, superintendent for Hall County schools.
He pledged the system would provide information about district lines, student enrollments and projected growth. He said it likely would be 2017 before “we even begin to talk about hard and fast lines” for school districts.
“You want to include people in decision-making, but you also want to give yourself as much time as possible,” Schofield said. “We’ve had some really squirrelly growth patterns” in South Hall.
The meetings would allow school officials to say to parents, “here’s what looks like makes some sense” for redistricting.
The Hall County Board of Education heard a proposal Monday that would move three schools back to their former facilities, leaving the current Flowery Branch High School building to become a new, seventh high school and a new middle school.
Schofield noted the current Flowery Branch facility originally was planned to accommodate a grades 6-12 arrangement in the same building. The middle and high school students would be in different parts of the building.
The proposal to the board would move Flowery Branch to its previous facility, now Davis Middle School on Hog Mountain Road; Davis Middle School to its previous building, now South Hall Middle on Falcon Parkway; and South Hall Middle to its former building, now used for Da Vinci Academy and World Language Academy at Poplar Springs Road and Atlanta Highway.
That would free the current Flowery Branch facility on Spout Springs Road for a new middle and high school.
Those moves would cost an estimated $12 million to $15 million, Schofield said. “I’d like to think it’ll be closer to that $12 million,” but he said the schools won’t know until bids are developed. He pointed out that higher prices often come with growth.
The first “shuffle” emptied the Poplar Springs Road building and allowed the system to “rebuild it from soup to nuts,” Schofield said. Now growth that is evident and that is anticipated seems likely to cause a “reshuffle.”
The current proposal would require additional renovations at the Poplar Springs facility. Gordon Higgins, school district communications director, noted, “it’s not nearly as much as trying to build a whole new school somewhere.”
The two programs of choice, Da Vinci and World Languages, would remain on the Poplar Springs site after the move.
Cox told the board a new classroom building is in the plans, yet whether to make that two or three stories has not been decided. In addition, expanding traffic capacity and trying to improve the traffic flow, would lead to larger areas for buses “to stack up” and additional parking, more than 100 new spaces.
He said the improvements should “greatly improve the traffic flow on that property.” He said an expected 32 buses would be on the campus each day.
Schofield also said the system “heard loud and clear” residents’ desire for the traditional sixth- to eighth-grade and ninth- to 12th-grade configurations.
One of the benefits of the proposed moves is connecting the South Hall Middle and Johnson High school campuses.
Cox told the board a road can be built connecting the two, along with a sidewalk, and students can go back and forth without getting onto Atlanta Highway or Poplar Springs Road. Higgins said students from the middle school would use Johnson High School facilities for extracurricular activities, such as the theater or athletic practices.
He said in early discussions, it was noted, “it sure would be nice if we could get South Hall (Middle) moved back there next to Johnson (High School).”
Cox said the system is early in the process of outlining all the needed steps and improvements. He compared the process to “wading in the ocean” and just getting in the water.
“We’ve gotten into it enough to know that it will work,” he said.
A new middle school was discussed last fall. That still would be in the plans, but at some undetermined time. A new school likely would be built at the current Flowery Branch High School campus, where land was bought with the idea of two schools in mind, Schofield said.
The superintendent added, “We have pitched a number of ideas ... we’ve been talking about this idea, along with a number of others, for over a year.”
If the cost is about $15 million, Schofield said, it would “free up” as much as another $15 million to be used for other school projects.
“We have an awful lot of facilities that are 40, 50, 60, 70 years old,” Schofield said.