by Candy Waylock / Appen Newspapers
November 30, 2009 Milton — If members of the community were hoping for drastic changes in the plans for the Bethany Bend high school site, they likely left school board member Katie Reeve's monthly meeting a bit disappointed.
Reeves emphasized she was sympathetic to the wishes of her community, but often her hands are tied.
"I'm just one member of a seven-member board, and I cannot do anything without at least three other board members agreeing with me," Reeves told the assembled audience at her monthly meeting last week.
Getting board approval is particularly challenging when the changes conflict with educational specifications — known in the parlance of school planning as "ed specs" — which ensure every school in the Fulton's nearly 100 buildings are equitable.
"Every change in ed specs requires support from the entire board – or at least four board members – and is not something we take lightly," said Reeves. "I think Fulton Schools has done a very good job of meeting the needs of our students with our existing facilities."
The Bethany Bend high school site is set for ground breaking this spring at the corner of Bethany Bend and Cogburn Road in Milton, with an opening in August 2012. The $70 million school can house up to 1,900 students and will relieve overcrowded conditions primarily at Milton High School, which is projected to have nearly 2,800 students by 2011.
Other high schools in the area may also see their attendance lines shift with the opening of the as-yet-unnamed Bethany Bend; however, the redistricting process will not start until next year.
The school will sit on 65 acres, with 25 acres of the site to remain undisturbed, mainly because of topographical or environmental issues. These dimensions are in line with the other high schools in the area, noted Frank Destadio of Parsons Engineering, which directs construction for Fulton Schools.
The main concerns from the community were voiced by Lynna Lee of Milton, who made a site visit with several other parents to the newly opened Johns Creek High School. The Bethany Bend school will be the same prototype as Johns Creek (as well as Westlake High in South Fulton), allowing the community a glimpse of what the new high school will closely resemble.
While impressed with Johns Creek High School, Lee noted the group was concerned with some issues, particularly with what they believed was the small size of the cafeteria. Destadio addressed that concern at Reeve's meeting, noting the cafeteria at Johns Creek, and ultimately Bethany Bend, exceeds state requirements for to space seat all the students in three sessions.
He added the benefit in prototype construction is the ability to correct any problems before building the next model.
"We've been talking with [Johns Creek Principal] Buck Greene, and there are some issues that will be corrected for the Bethany Bend high school," noted Destadio.
He added none of the changes are structural, but more aesthetic.
Other concerns from the community centered on items Fulton Schools has no power to fix. These mainly include widening the roads and other off-site traffic enhancements, which must be addressed by the city of Milton.
Patrick Burke, director of operations for Fulton Schools, noted there have been two meetings with Milton officials — with more planned — to see how the two entities could work on solving some of the issues.
A request for an entrance to the school via Ga. 9 is not an option, said Reeves. To reach Ga. 9 from school property would take the purchase of 9 acres of commercial development that stands between the school site and the highway. With two entrances already in the plan, there is no board support of that additional cost, Reeves said.
Ditto to the suggestion the board purchase land across the street to place some facilities.
Also off the table is a three-story, stacked building limiting the school's footprint, which would require a complete overhaul of the architectural plan. With a tight schedule, noted Reeves, any significant change jeopardizes the completion date and risks funding drying up.
The cost of the school is funded with proceeds from SPLOST 3 (special purpose local option sales tax), which will sunset in 2012 without a renewal.
The last piece of the Bethany Bend high school will be to determine what the front facade of the building will look like – it's "signature statement."
Milton High, which removed seven milton families out of their homes due to the BOE's lack of planning has the white columns, Alpharetta High has the retro look and Johns Creek High has the clock tower.
While the architects presented a conceptual drawing of a "lodge style" facade at last month's information meeting, no decision will be made until more community input is gathered.
Note: Accessmilton.com added to this article.