There’s no denying South Hall County is booming with room to grow.
With proximity to a brand-new hospital in Braselton and nearly 200 single-family residential permits issued in the first half of this year, families in the southern portion of the county are multiplying.
Which means enrollment at local schools is, too.
The Hall County Board of Education listed a new school in South Hall as first on a list of facility priorities for a November vote on a one-penny sales tax for education.
Superintendent Will Schofield said the new school — which at this point could be a middle or a high school — is likely to be a step toward a seventh school zone in the county district.
“I think one of the things we’ll start talking about in the very near future is the end game,” Schofield said. “If we begin to grow again with the new hospital and the economy coming back in the south, what we’re looking at within 10 years is high school and middle school district No. 7. That is certainly going to be in the southern part of the county.”
An overwhelming number of South Hall schools are already over capacity. This fall, Spout Springs School of Enrichment was redistricted with a handful of elementary students moved to nearby Chestnut Mountain Creative School of Inquiry and Friendship Elementary School.
“We increased by about 50 students over the last year,” said Chestnut Mountain Principal Wade Pearce. “We were at 645 at the start of the school year last year, and we’re at 695 now. I think about 30 of those students came from Spout Springs.”
Pearce said capacity at his school is about 850 students, so there still is room to grow, but there is growth in subdivisions in the Chestnut Mountain area, as well.
Davis Middle School and South Hall Middle School are over capacity, Schofield said. South Hall Middle School Principal Paula Stubbs said her school has to work and think logistically to keep from needing modular units on campus.
“We work very diligently on this campus,” she said. “Sometimes we’ll have two teachers sharing a classroom at different times to make sure our children don’t go into trailers. ... But if what we are seeing is a precursor to what’s coming, I can’t imagine how we can continue like this without having to move into portable spaces.”
Stubbs said South Hall’s enrollment is the highest it has been in more than a decade, with approximately 1,040 students. She said the county’s largest schools are in the south.
“The Johnson and Flowery Branch districts are truly where we have the largest numbers,” Stubbs said.
Davis Middle School Principal Eddie Millwood agreed.
“We’ve definitely seen growth pick up quite a bit over the last three or four years,” Millwood said. “Back around 2006 or 2007 we were growing quite a bit. When the economy slows down, we do too. But certainly we have seen over the last three or four years our enrollment steadily increase.”
Millwood said Davis has approximately 1,275 students currently enrolled, which is nearly the size of local high schools.
Schofield said Johnson High School and Flowery Branch High School are both “significantly over capacity.”
“Flowery Branch High School is now pushing 1,800 students, and we’ve got Johnson High School with 1,520 or 1,530,” Schofield said. “Those are our two schools over capacity, where we see the growth and where we pencil out the feeder patterns, in terms of who’s in the elementary and middle schools, that’s where we see it.
“That area is certainly where we see robust growth and where we’re over capacity.”
Schofield said the district is not looking at having massive high schools with “3,000-student capacities.” Instead, it is currently looking at how constructing a new school will work in conjunction with the existing schools in South Hall.
“Stepping backward, the question becomes, ‘OK, how do we use our existing space in the most wise fashion and set ourselves up so we have natural feeding patterns in the next decade of one middle to high school, middle to high school and middle to high school?’” he said.
Construction of this next South Hall school is listed as a top facility priority for the next five years under the proposed extension of an education special purpose local option sales tax. It will not be possible without those funds, according to Schofield.
“It looks like, if we put our best efforts forward, we can access somewhere between $5 million and $8 million of state funding,” Schofield said. “But that school’s going to cost between $20 million and $25 million.”
Schofield echoed Stubbs’ thoughts, saying if a new school is not possible, schools will have to get creative about providing classrooms for children, including adding modular units.
“We’re convinced that some sort of solution in the southern part of the county is where we need that middle and high school space,” Schofield said.