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System considers building larger schools
Any construction unlikely before 2015
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County school officials are thinking bigger as they plan for the next five years.

Building new schools was a given for the fast-growing system. But in addition to quantity, some of those schools also will be larger.

It’s being recommended that future elementary and middle schools be built to house as many as 1,500 students. The capacity at high schools would increase from 2,100 to 2,500 students.

Current school sizes are 1,500 students for elementary schools, so there would be no change at that level, and 1,100 for middle.

Tim Amerson, the district’s facilities planner, presented the recommendations to the Board of Education during its meeting Thursday. Those included seven construction projects. The final plan is slated for approval in November, following more discussion, planning and revisions.

Due to funding constraints, however, it likely will be some time before the system’s five-year facilities plan kicks in.

As proposed, the increased school sizes won’t begin until 2015, when future elementary school No. 14 could be built in southwest Forsyth to relieve crowding at Midway, Shiloh Point and Vickery Creek elementary schools. The site is proposed to be between Union Hill Road and McFarland Parkway.

Amerson said the 71-classroom campus is the system’s first priority. An application is being sent to the state next week to begin the process.

However, system spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo noted after the meeting that the state “does not fund the entire construction of a school and we have no local funding to make up the balance.”

“If voters approve a [bond] referendum in November 2014, then it is projected construction would begin in March 2015 with the school opening August 2016,” she said.

The new elementary school, slated to cost at least $11.3 million is atop the priority list, followed by middle school No. 10 at the extreme south end of the county, between Old Alpharetta Road and Peachtree Parkway. The middle school is priced at a minimum of $17.5 million.

Instead of building a sixth high school, the plan calls for additions to both Lambert and North Forsyth at a total of about $3.7 million. The new school, which would relieve crowding at South and West, would be built somewhere between McFarland Parkway and Hwy. 9.

In total, the construction projects will cost at least $60.6 million, with the system contributing about $9.8 million to match the state’s contribution of nearly $59.3 million.

The system would likely pull its portion of the cost from a bond referendum, if voters approve.

After the meeting, Amerson noted the cost estimates are based on state funding formulas and not “real-world cost for construction.”

“The state uses a very fixed dollar-per-square-foot cost,” he said. “Real world cost is higher, but includes grounds, parking/driveways and of course, athletic venues for the middle and high schools.”

State estimates also don’t include the cost of furniture, fixtures and equipment, which could total $2 million for a new school, he said.

The district would have to foot the bill for all the additional costs.

Chairwoman Darla Light expressed concern about the impact on athletics, noting higher enrollments could push high schools from being a large school in Class AAAAA to a small school in Class AAAAAA.

“That puts us at the bottom of the pile,” she said. “If you’re going to compete with the big boys, then you ought to be a big boy.”

Light asked for the committee and staff to look into the impact of the change.

Athletics aside, conservative enrollment trends show the district will have about 46,600 students by the 2017-18 school year, Amerson said.

In order to meet those growing needs the system is working toward its new facilities plan after three years instead of five.

The plan will require Georgia Department of Education approval for the district to receive any state funding.