A new $46 million high school designed to help ease overcrowding in Rutherford County isn't even open, and already school officials are making plans for new school. The county is trying to keep up, but students are moving into the district at an alarming rate.
Construction of the new Stewart's Creek High School is well under way. It's supposed to ease overcrowding just in time for the fall 2013 school year. But with new students moving to the district by the droves, one new school won't be enough.
"The past 10 years we've seen more than 10,000 students," said James Evans, Rutherford County Schools spokesman. "This past year we expected to see growth around 500, it actually hit 1,000."
Last night the school board presented a $132.4 million building plan which includes a new elementary school in August 2016, another new high school in August 2017 and a new middle school set to open in August 2018.
"You don't see a new elementary, middle or high school on the plan until 2016, so another three years," Evans said. "The board is trying to be conscientious of taxpayers, and what the county commissioners have asked us to do. We realize we have to pay for the growth too."
Overcrowding is an understatement at Blackman Elementary School.
Melnequa Holloway is teaching her fifth-grade students in one of five portables on campus.
"I've been here 10 years and it's been overcrowded," Holloway said. "This year the portables have at least 25 kids. I believe the number should be around 21."
Nearly every inch of space at the school is being used for classrooms, including closets and teacher lounges.
"Principal Cynthia Ford has made the best of the space that we have," Holloway said.
Over the next six years there will also be additions and renovations of several schools throughout the district in hopes of reducing class sizes.
"The cores of the schools are not built to hold that many students; that is why we have such an aggressive building plan," Evans said.
The first project on the list, modifications to make football stadiums at La Vergne and Smyrna compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, would come during the 2013-14 school year at a cost of $125,000. A 25-classroom annex at Blackman Middle costing $7.4 million and a six-classroom expansion, cafeteria upgrades and new library for Smyrna Primary School costing $2.5 million would be open in August 2014.
Blackman Middle has a current enrollment of 1,085 students, with 79 new students added this year. The school was originally built to house 1,000 students, but the school also relies on six portable classrooms. Smyrna Primary added three new students this year, giving it a total count of 517. The school uses three portables, but also has more than half of its students receiving free or reduced lunch. As an effort to provide more services for those students, some classes tend to be smaller.
County schools are just shy of 40,000 students in grades K-12. The district added more than 1,000 new students this year, roughly double what was anticipated. Growth projections for each of the next five years are between 2.4 and 2.6 percent.
"That's projected, but I think it's conservative," said Director of Schools Don Odom.
The multi-million dollar building plan has been sent to the Health and Education Committee for its review. If approved, it will go before the full county commission for a vote.
School officials said depending on what part of the county sees the most growth, that will most likely be the area the new schools will be built. Land has already been purchased next to Rockvale and Whitworth-Buchanan Schools.
Reporter Mealand Ragland-Hudgins with our news partner, The Daily News Journal contributed to this article.
Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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