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School system will build a new Morrow Middle School

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

There are 790 students enrolled in a Morrow Middle School which was designed to hold 650 pupils.

Morrow High School, which is roughly six feet away from the middle school, was designed to house 1,375 students, but there are nearly 2,000 children attending classes at the school.

School system officials have a plan in place to address the overcrowding issues at both schools by moving the middle school into a new two-story, 74-classroom facility, which will be built across the street. The old Morrow Middle School building will become the ninth-grade academy for the high school. Morrow High School's capacity will increase to 2,200 students as a result.

It will cost an estimated $28 million to build the new middle school.

"The high school and the middle school share a very small space -- about 30 acres -- and there is no more room for either school to grow," said Ronnie Watts, the school system's director of construction. "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.

"Well, as a result, that means we've got to build a new home for Morrow Middle School."

Construction on the new middle school is scheduled to begin this fall. The school will likely open in the spring of 2010. The new building will be on the same 46-acre property which houses Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, which is also located at the intersection of Maddox Road and Old Rex Morrow Road, like its middle and high school counterparts. Marshall Elementary only takes up 20 acres of its land.

As a result of the proximity to Morrow Middle School's current location, the school system will not have to adjust attendance boundaries when the new facility opens in two years.

"It will be based on the middle school model, which means there will be separate areas for the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders with very little intermingling," said Greg Curry, principal of Morrow Middle School. "The building we're in now is about 40 years old, and it was renovated a few years ago, but it is based on the junior high model, which is set up more like a high school."

The middle school also gains more space for students by moving into a new facility. The new Morrow Middle School will have room for 1,200 students. There will be 34 more classrooms than the current middle school has.

Watts said a school's September enrollment is always higher than the May enrollment. Based on a September 2007 enrollment of 829 students at Morrow Middle School, Watts said the enrollment could exceed 900 pupils when the new facility opens.

Meanwhile, Watts said the conversion of the existing middle school to a ninth-grade academy for the high school will help those students. "It will be a true ninth-grade academy," he said. "Those students will have their own cafeteria, their own library, and their own gymnasium."

The opening of a new Morrow Middle School will also have effects which can be felt across the county. The school system has been feeling the pinch of overcrowding for years, and new schools have continually been opened to house students, while existing schools have been expanded to increase capacity.

Rex Mill Middle School, which opened its doors in January 2007, was the last middle school to be opened by the district. The school system is currently designing a new K-8 facility, which will relieve overcrowding in the panhandle area of the county. The system's ninth-high school is being built on 155 acres of land in Riverdale, and that land will also house another middle school and an elementary school someday.

Meanwhile, Morrow middle and high schools use 9 percent of the 350 modular classrooms which are pressed into service to house Clayton County students. "That's 31 trailers we can move around and use in other areas of the county," Watts said.