by Candy Waylock; The Milton Herald
NORTH FULTON, Ga. – After several months of gathering community input, Fulton School officials appear likely to add additional classroom space to existing North Fulton middle schools, rather than build a new school on land it owns in the city of Milton.
"There is the general consensus [to add] additions," said Patrick Burke, director of operations for the Fulton County School System. "Which schools will receive additions is currently being studied, [but] we want to put them where they make sense."
The decision on which middle schools will be set for expansion will be based on three factors: minimize shifting of students to other schools; better align feeder patterns; and keep the school from becoming too big.
The cost of the project is included in the nearly $300 million anticipated to be raised through the current 1 percent sales tax (SPLOST IV) to fund additions and new school construction system-wide through 2017. The details of the plan and the exact cost of the middle school additions in North Fulton will be presented to the Fulton School Board in May.
Burke acknowledged there were pockets of the community that had pushed strongly for a new middle school on the school system property off Freemanville Road in north Milton. Residents there said school officials "promised" them a new school in the SPLOST referendum. However, Burke said the wording was always "a new middle school or equivalent capacity" that can be accomplished through classroom additions.
The problem with the Milton location, said Burke, is that it's not located in the area of highest need. An area-wide redistricting stretching from Johns Creek to Milton would be needed to reduce overcrowded conditions at specific schools and fill up a new Freemanville school.
The land was originally purchased five years ago to locate a new high school and middle school complex; but those plans were abandoned when more suitable land became available. Burke said the land will continue to be "land banked" and its future use up to the Fulton County Board of Education.
While most middle schools will be over state capacity in the next five years, the schools projected to be the most overcrowded are Crabapple Middle in Roswell and Taylor Road and Autrey Mill middle schools in Johns Creek. Taylor Road is already slated to receive an addition through the SPLOST proceeds in the next few years.
School Board President Linda Schultz, who represents Roswell, said adding on to schools makes the most sense for the current situation.
"Building additions minimize the need for redistricting and allow us opportunities to align feeder patterns," said Schultz. "I don't think anybody wants to see extremely large middle schools, but small additions at strategic places in North Fulton would be less disruptive to our students."
During two community meetings last month, the strongest support for a new middle school on Freemanville Road came from residents residing in the general area who were concerned that Northwestern and Hopewell would turn into "super-sized" middle schools.
Burke said Fulton County has built its newer middle schools to accommodate 1,500 students in its core facilities (media center, cafeteria and auditorium, for example), and he does not consider that enrollment a super-sized middle school. Currently, there are no middle schools in North Fulton with populations near 1,500 — or projected to hit that number in the next five years — though several will be close.
School Board member Katie Reeves said a middle school with a population of 1,250 to 1,450 allows the school to offer a wider range of classes that is not possible with a smaller population.
"A school with 1,400 kids is not the definition of a 'super-sized' school," said Reeves. "And it is difficult to offer a full curriculum in a small school."
Burke said the system is conducting engineering and feasibility studies to determine exactly which middle schools would be best situated for additions. That information, along with financial data, will be presented to the school board during its May 8 meeting.