The Fayette Citizen-News Page

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Lester Rd. middle school tops list on 5-year building plan


They mostly avoided the issue of how best to pay for it, but members of the Fayette County Board of Education heard convincing evidence Saturday for the need to build a new middle school and three new elementary schools as part of the next five-year construction program.

With the Fayette County Commission eyeing a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to fund its $400 million long-range road building campaign, it’s likely the school board will settle on a bond referendum on November’s general election ballot, though nothing has been made official.

Fayette voters have twice defeated SPLOST issues to fund school construction; they last approved a bond referendum in 2000, which funded three elementary schools and Whitewater High, opening in August.

A SPLOST vote that failed in 1999 included an additional middle school, but that was removed from the 2000 bond referendum, said Superintendent John DeCotis. The result: Fayette County is short an entire middle school.

The district already owns land adjacent to Cleveland Elementary on Lester Road in the middle of the county, where the new middle school is targeted.

The three new elementary schools would include Centennial Elementary, already earmarked for a tract of land off McDuff Parkway in Peachtree City donated by developer John Wieland. It’s across the road from his Centennial development, north of Wynnmeade.

Another would be located in the Tyrone area, to relieve Tyrone and Burch elementaries, and the third would be built somewhere in the south-central part of the county, to draw students away from Sara Harp Minter, Spring Hill and Peeples elementary schools.

Additions are also proposed for Peeples and Spring Hill elementary schools. An expansion of Rising Starr Middle would add four classrooms onto the end of each of the schools’ academic hallways, for a total of 16 new rooms.

Admittedly, the board has some breathing room, for now.

As of December, just one elementary school, two middle schools and two high schools were above capacity, and of those only two, Rising Starr Middle and Fayette County High, were overcrowded by a significant amount.

But Jerry Whitaker, planning director, presented a detailed analysis of current and future projected needs that showed the elbow room will be short-lived.

Facilities Services Director Mike Satterfield said it takes about 18 months to complete an elementary school, and two years to finish a middle school.

The district has grown on average by about 700 students annually in recent years, equal to about one new elementary school every 12 months, he said.

If all housing lots currently rezoned and approved throughout the county were built out, Whitaker estimates 6,000 more students would be added to the system.

He also applied guesswork on where large-scale, unannounced developments might go in over the next five years.

For example, Whitaker figured 500 homesites at a minimum would eventually occupy the 1,000 acres owned by the Rivers family along Sandy Creek Road. Developers are reportedly lining up to get the rights to the rolling pastureland in the county’s central section, which the family intends to sell sometime this year.

A 500-home River’s Farm subdivision would bring 1,183 additional students into Fayette County Schools, Whitaker predicted.

Satterfield also presented a list of renovations, replacements and upgrades of existing facilities that could be included in a bond vote, mostly carpet and air conditioning.