By Curt Yeomans
The magic number is 649.
That is how many new classrooms were promised to Clayton County voters when they approved the school system's Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) III in 2004. The new classrooms were needed because the school system expected to see its student population rise by an estimated 5,000 pupils by 2010.
So far, 500 classrooms have been built, are currently under construction, or are being designed using money from SPLOST III, which ends in 2009. Of those classrooms, 234 of them are being built this summer. At least 175 more are being designed, or the school system is getting ready to bid out the contracts for their construction. To date, 91 classrooms which were funded by SPLOST III have been completed.
The school system has collected $168.1 million in SPLOST III funds since January 2005. The cost of all of the school construction projects currently in the design phase, or under construction, could cost as much as $140.7 million. Among those funds, $79.8 million is tied up in projects which are listed as "under construction," while an estimated $60.6 million will be spent on five future projects.
"Our main goal with this SPLOST has been to build new classrooms," said Denise Roper, a construction supervisor for the school system's construction department. "We've done modifications and renovations in the past, but now we're focused on building new classrooms, either by building new facilities, or expanding existing ones."
As the summer months drag on, construction crews can be seen at many elementary, middle and high schools throughout the county. The projects range from the construction of a ninth high school -- behind Southern Regional Medical Center -- to classroom additions at several elementary, middle and high schools.
The centerpiece of the system's construction plan is the ninth high school, which will open its doors in August 2009. The school sits on a 155-acre property in the middle of the county, which generated some controversy in 2006 when the school system paid $10.2 million for the land, and gave the property's previous owner another $7.8 million to do site preparation work for the new high school.
At the time, school system officials defended the purchase by pointing to high overcrowding in local high schools -- Particularly Riverdale High School, which exceeded its designed capacity by roughly 600 students when the land was bought. "The site is important to us because it is located in the center of the county, which will allow it to help relieve overcrowding at several of our other high schools," Roper said.
The southern part of the county is an area where the growth in the student population has driven several expansion projects. The area will see some relief from overcrowding at elementary and middle schools when the system completes a K-8 facility in 2010 on Panhandle Road in Lovejoy. The school will draw some students from River's Edge Elementary School and Lovejoy Middle School.
The two high schools in the southern part of the county, Lovejoy and Mundy's Mill, will also experience some relief through expansion efforts. Twenty-four classrooms are being built at Mundy's Mill, while another 11 are on the drawing board for Lovejoy.
The school system has also planned for future growth in the northeastern part of the county by buying enough land on Steele Road in Ellenwood to house a high school, middle school and elementary school, Roper said.
One of the high schools which serves the northeastern part of the county is Morrow High School, which is overcrowded by nearly 700 students. While Morrow High will see some relief when the ninth high school opens next year, it will gain much more relief a year later, when it absorbs what is now Morrow Middle School.
A new Morrow Middle School facility is being planned for the area, and it will open in 2010. When the new Morrow Middle School opens, the present one will be converted to a ninth-grade academy for the neighboring high school. Morrow High School's capacity will jump by 825 students.
"We started talking about how overcrowded Morrow High School is, and as a result, we began to talk about making Morrow Middle part of the high school," Ronnie Watts, the school system's director of construction, said on May 29. "Well, as a result, that means we've got to build a new home for Morrow Middle School."
The construction department is presently overseeing 14 construction projects, which are in varying stages of completion, according to the school system's SPLOST III Construction Update report from last month. Those projects include:
· Riverdale Middle School: Classroom additions and modifications (Design phase).
· Lovejoy High School: 11-classroom expansion (About to begin design phase).
· Jackson Elementary School: 12-classroom addition (About to open bids).
· K-8 Facility: 78-classroom facility for kindergartners through eighth-graders (Pre-qualification process for potential general contractors will begin this month).
· New Morrow Middle School: Construction of a new 74-classroom facility (Review stage).
· Ash Street Center: Fire protection, floor, rest room, kitchen, HVAC renovations. New power generator and roof. (Construction will begin in the fall).
· Morrow High School: Construction of a marching band observation tower and baseball stadium concession stand (Under construction, to be completed this month).
· North Clayton Middle School: 15-Classroom addition (Under construction, to be completed this month).
· M.D. Roberts Middle School: 15-Classroom addition (Under construction, to be completed this month).
· North Clayton High School: Conversion of a construction lab into three computer labs (under construction, to be completed in August).
· Mt. Zion Primary School: Construction of a 50-classroom facility (Under construction, to be completed in August).
· Roberta T. Smith Elementary School: 12-classroom addition (Under construction, to be completed in November).
· Mundy's Mill High School: 24-classroom addition (Under construction, to be completed in December).
· High School No. 9: 96-classroom facility and new athletic stadium (Under construction, to be completed in April 2009).