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Clayton prepares to build new Riverdale Elementary

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools may be only a couple of months away from breaking ground on a facility that will, upon completion, serve as the district's new Riverdale Elementary School, according to a school system official.

Chief Operating Officer Cephus Jackson said he just recently opened the submitted bids from companies vying to build the 52-classroom school, which will have a design similar to that of Mt. Zion Primary School, which opened in 2008. Jackson said staffers in his office are reviewing the bids, and he plans to bring the county's school board a recommendation for a contractor to hire in May.

"We'll bring a contract to the school board, and if they approve it, we should be able to break ground in late May, or sometime in June," Jackson said. "We're very excited about this. We like the plans that have been drawn up, and we think we're going to have a much better facility than what we have now."

The new Riverdale Elementary School facility is slated to be built next to Charles R. Drew High School, behind Southern Regional Medical Center on Garden Walk Boulevard, in Riverdale. District officials have been planning the facility for the last few years, going back to when the school system purchased the 155-acre property in 2006.

The school system did not have enough money from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) III funds to build the school sooner, so it was included on a list of projects for SPLOST IV, which began in 2010. The school system's March 2011 SPLOST Construction Update report shows the district has set aside $14 million in SPLOST IV funds to build the new school.

Jackson said there will be some site preparation work, such as geological surveys, that will have to be done before the school is built. But, he added that past surveys of the property have already found the soil suitable in other areas for Drew High School, Southern Crescent Stadium, and a school bus facility that is under construction across the street from the high school.

"Because it [the elementary school site] is over the same land, we believe the soil will be OK," he said.

He added that since some blasting had to be done at the site to remove large boulders in the ground during the construction of Drew High School, more blasting is likely to occur before the elementary school is built.

Construction on the school is expected to be completed in September 2012, Jackson said. "We're going to move everything over the semester break [in December 2012]," he added. "We have a natural two-week break there, so that would probably be the best time to move all of the offices and everything else, and then everyone will just go to the new facility when they come back [in January 2013]."

Jackson said a new facility is needed for Riverdale Elementary School because additions that had been built onto the existing facility over the years were not adequate. Sometimes, he said, students end up getting wet walking between classroom buildings in the rain, even though the pupils are walking on covered walkways.

"We determined it will cost less to build a new facility than to do major renovations at the existing one," he added.

Like Mt. Zion Primary School, the new Riverdale Elementary School will have a central area that includes administrative offices, a cafeteria, computer lab and library, with five classroom wings branching out from that central area.

During the construction of Mt. Zion Primary School, the design led construction crews, and school system staff, to refer to the layout as a "hand shape" because of the fact that it looked like an open hand from the air.

Jackson said there will be some changes to the design, for Riverdale Elementary School. Most of them are minor, he said, to improve circulation in common areas. He added, however, that Riverdale Elementary School leaders chose to replace a centrally located outdoor amphitheater, with an enclosed gallery space, to showcase student work.

The old Riverdale Elementary School building will become office space for the district, Jackson said.

A new elementary school will not be the only new facility to be built on that property, however. Jackson said the district is preparing to begin advertising that it is accepting bids for the construction of an auxiliary gymnasium at Drew High School. As part of SPLOST IV, each high school in the county is going to get an auxiliary gymnasium.

Construction is also tentatively slated to start in either May, or June, on the gymnasium, according to the school district's chief operating officer. "Since we're already going to be over there building the new elementary school, it seemed like it would be a good time to go ahead and build the auxiliary gym as well," he said.

Jackson said it is not yet clear how much the auxiliary gymnasium will cost to build, because bids have not been received, but auxiliary gymnasiums already under construction are expected to cost between $1.9 million, and $2.8 million, according to the district's most recent SPLOST construction report.

Drew High School Principal, Gary Townsend, said the addition of the auxiliary gymnasium will help relieve scheduling headaches created by the fact that the school's boys' and girls' basketball teams, wrestling team and cheerleading team all vie for practice space in the school's existing gym. The auxiliary gymnasium, he said, will be used to hold some of those practices, as well as physical education classes.

"Now, you don't have to wait for everyone else to finish before you hold your practice," Townsend said. "I have to hand it to my staff, though. They always seem to make it work with one gymnasium, but they could do an even better job with two gymnasiums."