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Two new school facilities opening this fall

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Construction crews are working to put the finishing touches on the two newest schools in Clayton County, so they can be ready for students when the 2010-2011 school year begins in August.

School construction officials said they hope to begin the move to the new Morrow Middle School by the end of this week.

"We're hoping to move in [this] week," School System Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson said. "It all depends on what the fire marshal says after [he] does his inspection."

Jackson and the school system's in-house school architect, Klaus Darnall, also said plans are being made to begin moving into the Eddie J. White K-8 Academy, just outside Lovejoy, about a month and a half from now.

"Substantial construction is expected to be finished in mid-July," Darnall said. "I'd say we're about 90 percent done with construction at this time."

When they open, both schools will serve the immediate purpose of relieving overcrowding. While the K-8 academy is a new school which will relieve overcrowding at neighboring schools, the new Morrow Middle School is a replacement facility for an existing school.

The existing Morrow Middle School has 40 classrooms, while the new facility will have 70 classrooms. The new, two-story building is located at 5934 Trammel Road, a block away from the current facility. The replacement building is being built at a cost of $24.59 million, according to the school system's construction web site.

Both the new Morrow Middle School, and the K-8 academy, are being funded with money collected through Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) III.

On Thursday, construction crews were busy touching up paint, sweeping up dust, and sand blasting the walkways outside Morrow Middle. "We only have a little bit of work left to do," Darnall said. "Most of the classrooms are completed now."

Darnall said the last significant bit of construction-related work that needs to take place is the installation of a hardwood floor, and bleachers, in the school's gymnasium. He said that will be done soon.

Fire marshals, from Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services, inspected the building for safety last Thursday.

Jackson and Darnall said they expect to know by Friday if the fire marshals have given their formal blessing to begin moving in. "I'm 99 percent sure we're going to begin moving in [this week]," Jackson said.

When the decision was made in 2008 to build a new Morrow Middle School, the plan was to transform the existing middle school into part of neighboring Morrow High School, to relieve overcrowding. On May 24, school system Superintendent Edmond Heatley said that plan was being put on hold temporarily, to address space concerns at another school in the district.

"The plans have changed for now," Heatley said. "The [one-year-old] Elite Scholars Academy Charter School has already outgrown its location at the [Eula Wilborn Ponds Perry Learning Center], so we would like to move Elite Scholars into the old Morrow Middle School building until we can build a new facility for them."

The K-8 academy, however, is a little farther behind the new Morrow Middle School, in construction, according to Darnall. He said construction began in January 2009, two months after work started on the new Morrow Middle. "At this point, it's boxed in," he said. "That means the walls are up, the roof is on, windows are in place, and all that's left to do is interior work."

The K-8 academy, which also is a two-story structure, is costing the district $25.91 million to build, according to school officials.

When design work began in 2007, district officials said, it was intended to relieve overcrowding at nearby Lovejoy Middle School, and River's Edge Elementary School, where many classes -- particularly at the middle school -- were being housed in modular classrooms. On Thursday, Darnall said the purpose of the school has not changed.

When it opens, the K-8 academy will be the first and only school in Clayton County that houses kindergartners through eighth-graders. "It's a new design for us, but the K-8 model has been used in other school systems before," Darnall said.

It features 81 classrooms, a single library and two gymnasiums -- one for the kindergartners through fifth-graders, and another for the sixth- through eighth-graders. It also has a single cafeteria that includes a folding divider wall that Darnall said can be used to separate the elementary school students from the middle school students at lunch time.

Darnall also said there will be a parents' room at the front entrance, where moms and dads can come in and use computers to check the grades their children are earning in school.

On Thursday, kitchen equipment was lined up in the center of the school cafeteria, some doors had still not been installed, there was no flooring in either of the school's gymnasiums, and construction workers could be seen working on wiring in the ceilings of multiple hallways. Sod was also just being laid in some areas outside the school.

"Most of [the] effort that has to be done at the K-8 school is indoors stuff that should not take too long to complete," Darnall said. "The only thing that's left to do outdoors is the landscaping."