During the most recent Forsyth County Schools board of education meeting held Tuesday, board members approved the site selection for the county’s next middle school which will likely be built in west Forsyth in the coming years.
The board unanimously approved the site selection: a 45-acre site located in the 5000 block of Hyde Road, advancing the next step in the construction process — approval from the Georgia Department of Education.
According to Jennifer Caracciolo, director of communications for Forsyth County Schools, the proposed middle school is part of the $295,000,000 School Bond referendum that was approved by voters in May.
"It’s funded by the voters in the bond to relieve overcrowding at existing middle schools,” Caracciolo said. “That's where our growth is occurring; it's moving from the south (part of the county) to the west.”
She said that the school will be their typical middle school design and will hold anywhere between 1,000 to 1,400 students depending on the final design that will come later.
“We're not that far in the process yet," Caracciolo said
At the meeting, several residents of the Rosewood Lake subdivision and the owner of an adjoining property addressed the board to voice their concern over the site selection.
The first speaker, Tracy Ann Moore-Grant, a resident of Rosewood Lake, summed up local residents’ concerns, citing road hazards, increased traffic on roads and possible county liability in choosing the site.
"Our main concern … for everyone in our area is the traffic," Moore-Grant said. "I think everyone's No. 1 concern is the safety that would pose an issue on Hyde Road.”
Moore-Grant explained that Hyde Road is a small country road, with factors like wildlife, road grades and positioning that make it less than ideal for the construction of a school. She said that currently they already have traffic issues nearby due to school traffic. Placing a school entrance outside their neighborhood would only elevate that, Moore Grant said.
"It seems like our issue in the county is the buying of attractive property without the forethought of, 'What is this going to do to traffic in this area?'” she said. “I think it’s a beautiful piece of land, it's just in the wrong spot."
Moore-Grant also expressed their concerns about the transparency of the selection process, saying that the lack of information “causes unease” in local residents.
“We really don't know what's going on, and this process is so far down the road that we don't feel at all engaged in the process or that we have the correct information," Moore-Grant said.
According to Caracciolo, this selection process has gone by the book, exactly the same way that other sites have been selected.
She said that concerns that local residents were not notified is simply because they had not reached that part of the process yet.
"That comes next," she said. "Land negotiations are confidential under law and the process is handled through an attorney and usually the land owner’s attorney. Up until this point everything that we've done has legally been confidential and only discussed in executive session with the board of education."
Another resident of an adjoining property on Jekyll Road, Jeff Lake, took his time at the microphone to express concerns over the viability of the site due to environmental factors like flooding from a small lake that sits on his property and the risk that could pose him and others.
"During extreme rainfall such as occurred in 2009, when we had approximately 13 inches of rain over a seven day period, the water level reached within inches of the top of the dam," Lake said. "The construction of a school on the adjoining property which all slopes towards our lake will no doubt increase storm water runoff significantly with the destruction of the trees and underbrush.
"I ask this board, if it were your property and your lake would you want to have a school built that could possibly have a dam breach and you'd become responsible, you'd become liable for that dam breach. I don't think you would," he said.
After the public participation, Forsyth County School’s Director of Planning Tim Amerson addressed the board, explaining specifics of the construction process and listing the different assessments and studies that will be completed on the site in the coming months.
According to board of education documents, those studies will include an environmental site assessment, risk hazard assessment, a Forsyth County Water Service Report, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources Floodplain Evaluation and a full boundary and topographical survey of the selected property.
Caracciolo said that the questions raised at the meeting will also be taken into consideration during the construction process and residents will have several more opportunities to voice their questions and concerns.
"It's part of the feedback process," she said. "We always have an opportunity for public feedback from adjoining property owners or residents in that area … So the concerns that they addressed last night are part of our due diligence and our plan."
Caracciolo said residents will eventually see signage posted in the area of the proposed school with details on a planned public forum meeting at West Forsyth High School and will have a chance to make public comments before the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners when the site is in the planning and zoning stage.