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Clayton breaks ground on K-8 facility next month

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County school officials expect to reduce overcrowding conditions at Rivers Edge Elementary School and Lovejoy Middle School in 2010, when the district's first kindergarten through eighth-grade school opens in the county's panhandle.

As of Tuesday, River's Edge exceeded its capacity by 20 classrooms, and Lovejoy had 25 modular classrooms stretched along its side, and behind the school, according to one of the school system's architects. Construction on the 1,300-student, 82-classroom, K-8 school, which will be built across the street from the intersection of Panhandle Road and New Hope Road in Lovejoy, is set to begin in January.

Despite, an enrollment loss in the school system, following the district's loss of accreditation, system leaders expect crowding to continue being a problem in the panhandle area.

"There is growth still to be seen in the panhandle, once the economy improves," said architect Klaus Darnall. "Once the economy gets better, I think you're going to see housing popping up all over the place down there. We will probably need another school [in addition to the K-8 school] down there eventually."

School system officials opened bids for the job on Tuesday, but Chief Operations Officer Joseph Jones said he could not reveal the lowest responsible bidder until the Jan. 5 school board meeting. Jones said the district will recommend that bidder at that meeting. The board will have to approve the bid before a contract can be worked out with the contractor.

Darnall said the district will move quickly -- "weather permitting" -- to begin construction on the school before the end of January. The timeline calls for the school to open its doors in August 2010.

The anticipated cost for constructing the school is $28.5 million, according to a Dec. 15, Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) construction update form provided to the school board.

Darnall said there will be some benefits to having a K-8 school, citiing school systems in California, Arizona, and Maryland where K-8 schools exist. "K-8 seems to be the rage, it's all over the country," Darnall said. "One of the claims is that test scores go up in K-8 schools ...

"I won't say how much, because it varies from one school system to another," Darnall added. "A lot of it depends on the child, the child's home environment, and the teacher."

Planning for the school has been going on for over a year and a half. In May 2007, district officials and representatives from the architectural firm of Manley Spangler Smith met with parents during information sessions to get feedback on the project.

There were some unusual ideas suggested, including a planetarium, and glass floors with fish swimming in them, which did not make it into the final architectural plans for the school.

However, some of the suggestions will be utilized in the facility, like two gymnasiums (one for middle school students and another for elementary school students), outdoor learning areas designed to teach children about plant life from the four regional areas of Georgia, and computer labs. The school also will have a lecture hall, which can be used for community gatherings.

The school will have four main wings, including one in the front which will have space for an elementary school gymnasium and connections programs, such as band, orchestra, and art. The middle portion of the building will have two adjacent, "U" shaped, two-story wings for classrooms. The middle school students will be in one wing, and the elementary school students will be in the other.

The final wing will be in the back of the building, and it will include a middle school gymnasium, a cafeteria and a kitchen.

Even though the elementary and middle students will be in the same building, they will largely be separated from each other. Still, Darnall said the elementary students will be helped by being in the same school as middle-school-aged children. "Elementary children can take advantage of the exploratories [connection classes] offered to middle school students," he said. "They can also maintain those relationships they begin to develop in kindergarten all the way through the eighth grade."