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Work begins ahead of another shuffle for South Hall kids
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Hall County schools needs the dominos to fall just right in the next two years as part of its effort to accommodate growth in South Hall County.

The school district announced last winter that it plans a reshuffling of schools — moving three schools back to facilities they formerly occupied — and opening its seventh high school inside the current Flowery Branch High School building.

That new school, which would initially house sixth-12th grades, would use the Flowery Branch building that was built as a combination middle and high school before that plan was scrapped with the Great Recession’s slower growth.

The growth now is back, and South Hall schools are overcrowded.

The major work on the South Hall projects will start this year, focused on the Academies of Discovery building that houses Da Vinci Academy and World Language Academy middle grades between Atlanta Highway and Poplar Springs Road, “since that’s our longest lead time,” Matt Cox, executive director of facilities for the county schools, said.

The work at the academies is the first, and most expensive, part of the school shuffling. Construction is expected to begin on a classroom addition at the building before school is out in 2017. It will require a year to complete — through the 2017-18 school year.

The two-story addition will have 44 new classrooms.

With the addition, the “new” South Hall Middle School will have a capacity of about 1,500 students. The school will continue to be home for middle schoolers at Da Vinci Academy and World Language Academy.

Cox said the academies’ building was among the older ones in the district until it was renovated as South Hall Middle students moved from that building to their current building a few years ago.

As South Hall students now move back, a classroom addition will make South Hall Middle the county’s largest middle school, Cox said.

“In the next few months, we’ll dig a lot deeper into these other things,” Cox said, referring to changes to be made at current South Hall and Davis middle school buildings and Flowery Branch High School.

Perhaps the most visible change will be field houses for Flowery Branch and Davis Middle. Cox explained that dressing rooms built for football and basketball are no longer adequate with the growth of girls sports and newer sports to the county, such as soccer.

Chestatee High School and Davis Middle buildings were constructed about the same time — both as high schools. Neither had a field house. One has since been built at Chestatee. One now is needed at Davis since it will become Flowery Branch High School, Cox said.

Another visible addition needed is a baseball field at the current Flowery Branch High School.

Hall schools and the county’s parks department agreed to develop parks and recreation facilities. Those include the Hog Mountain complex, near the current Davis Middle, and Spout Springs Park. However, Spout Springs doesn’t have a baseball field, leaving Flowery Branch students using fields at Davis, Cox said. The new high school at Flowery Branch will need its own facilities.

“It’s not realistic to think two high schools could use one baseball complex,” Cox said.

The estimated cost for the South Hall school changes is $14 million to $18 million, he said.

Construction work this summer meanwhile has been limited to relatively minor projects — and one large one, a new performing arts center at East Hall High School.

The performing arts center will cost about $6.2 million and construction will last through this school year into next summer.

Other work has included reconfiguring space for labs at North Hall and Johnson high schools, a new roof for Wauka Mountain Multiple Intelligences Academy and new “learning commons” that replace media centers at three schools.

The district also has reconfigured the central office to improve security there.

Changes include installing additional doors, which will require a key card to enter. One of the doors will be placed outside the stairwell and elevator. Another door will be installed just past the front desk at the front of the building.