Columbia County School System officials fielded a few questions with little debate from citizens at a Thursday meeting held to discuss the possible relocation of the Columbia County Alternative School.
About 10 citizens attended the meeting at Evans Elementary School, where the Alternative School is planned to move.
“The Alternative School is not something to be feared,” said Meryl Alalof, who started the school in 1995 and was its first principal. “This school has been here for a long time. The school is going to look the same on the outside. The ages of the students on the inside are going to change. But these are children that are going to blossom with each passing day.”
The proposal to move the school from the Johns Building, which is next door to Grovetown Elementary School, came for a desire to make good use of Evans Elementary, which will be vacant next year. The Alternative School spent the past six years in a building that will be condemned after the school departs.
At Evans, students for the first time will have access to a cafeteria for hot lunches, a gymnasium and an auditorium.
It will cost about $3 million to replace the school, Superintendent Charlie Nagle said. But the Evans Elementary property wouldn’t sell for a quarter of that.
“We probably have the safest school, I feel, in Columbia County,” Alternative School principal Ja’net Bishop said, adding that the school has stricter rules and security than other county schools.
The school can accept up to 120 middle and high school students who have violated the school Code of Conduct, not committed criminal acts, Nagle said.
“The (Alternative School) students who get a new lease on life, a new opportunity, are not students who violated criminal law,” Nagle said, adding that Alternative School students don’t present a danger to the surrounding community. “(Attending) is a privilege, not a right. If they don’t behave or don’t live up to our standards, they are gone. Criminals do not come to our schools.”
Citizens were concerned about students wandering away from school, which Nagle said has never happened before. A resident of adjacent Walnut Grove was assured they would still have access to the property to use the walking track.
Pam Rodgers said she’s lived across the street from the Alternative School since it opened in the current location six years ago. She’s never had qualms about her two young children walking past it to go to the elementary school.
“I never worried about my children,” said Rodgers, who also is a crossing guard nearby and has regular contact with students walking to the Alternative School. “The kids are very respectful to me. I’ve never had one issue with the children there.”
David Anna, who lives in the adjacent Walnut Hill subdivision, said he understood the questions and concerns raised by residents about the proposed move.
“We know it’s a given that all new situations are preceded by anxiety,” Anna said.
He also said the nearby homeowners associations were likely interested in school policies and activities.
“We invited our communities into our school if they are interested in that,” Nagle said.
Country Place resident Ka-Cee Vaughn said she attended the meeting just to find out more about the school.
“You did a great job explaining it,” Vaughn said. “I’m glad to know the school can be used for something. We don’t want it sitting empty.”