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What's ahead for Columbia County in 2013

Posted: January 2, 2013 - 12:01am
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Photo by JIm Blaylock  The county's new Gateway facility is under construction near the Gateway Walmart.
Photo by JIm Blaylock The county's new Gateway facility is under construction near the Gateway Walmart.

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@StevenUhles

Columbia County has a lot to look forward to in the new year, from construction projects to new hires.

The 2013-2014 school year in Columbia County will begin with a new superintendent and the opening of two new schools.

Current Deputy Superintendent Sandra Carraway will replace retiring Charles Nagle in the school system’s top administrative position at the end of the current school year.

Columbia County school board members gave final approval on Dec. 11 after a 2½-month search that produced 18 applicants.

Carraway plans to focus on providing teachers with the newest technology tools and finding ways to maximize funding opportunities such as expanding programming for students, including those who are gifted or in academic trouble.

One of Carraway’s first priorities is overseeing a smooth transition for pupils entering the county’s two new schools: Evans Elementary School and Columbia Middle School.

The new Evans Elementary will include 51 classrooms and is being built on a 15-acre parcel on Gibbs Road near the current school’s location, which could possibly become a campus for the Columbia County Alternative School next year.

Evans Elementary is being built larger than older elementary schools in the county to accommodate future growth.

Evans Elementary is expected to open with 640 pupils, with more than 200 pupils coming from Bel Air Elementary School. The other half of Bel Air Elementary will be moved to Martinez Elementary School.

Although Bel Air Elementary is closing in 2013, the campus will be used by Martinez Elementary as demolition of the Flowing Wells Road school is slated for summer 2013. A replacement school will be built on the same site.

The new Columbia Middle School next to Grovetown High School on William Few Parkway is modeled after Stallings Island Middle School, which opened in August 2008. Like Evans Elementary, the middle school will have 51 classrooms.

The old Columbia Middle campus on Columbia Road will become offices for the school system’s nutrition and transportation departments.

A middle school rezoning prompted by the opening of Columbia Middle will bring about 122 pupils to the school, making it the county’s largest middle school with 977 pupils.

While the new school zones relieved overcrowding at Grovetown Middle School, it brought Evans Middle School’s projected enrollment above capacity. As a result, 12 classrooms will be added onto Evans Middle before next school year begins.

Once finished, Evans Elementary and Columbia Middle are expected to cost $12.5 million and $20 million, respectively. Funding for the schools comes from a $118 million 1-percent sales tax package that voters approved in 2011 as a long-term plan to replace several aging schools.

Another new facility coming to Columbia County is the Gateway exhibition center, under construction behind the Gateway Center near the Lewiston Road Interstate 20 exit.

Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson said the Gateway exhibition center and Family Y should be completed this spring, one year after more than $7 million for the project was initially allocated.

“That’s what we’re shooting for,” he said. “It is hard to say. It depends on a lot of external factors.”

The Gateway project was developed because of what officials saw as an undeveloped niche in the marketplace, Johnson said.

“Our Savannah Rapids Pavilion has been wildly successful,” he explained. “But it was never quite big enough for some of the larger shows and trade shows. We didn’t think we needed a big arena but we did want to cater to that middle market.”

The hope is that the project will engender further development, such as new restaurant and hotel construction in the Grovetown area and along the I-20 corridor, Johnson said.

At the end of December the Columbia County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously not to renew the contract of Development Authority Director Troy Post. That means much of 2013 will be devoted to finding the person to take his place.

While the director is officially a county-paid position, Johnson said the selection process will be left to the organization’s independent board. The initial staging for a search has already begun, he added.

“(Development Authority Board Chair) Mark Wills and I have had preliminary discussions and I know they already have a team in place to take care of this,” he said. “I would anticipate that they will start pretty quickly.”

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