Growth in Fort Gordon’s cyber and intelligence missions will bring thousands of new personnel to the post over the next five years and hundreds of new students for Columbia County schools.
That was the message Fort Gordon Garrison Commander Col. Sam Anderson gave to members of the Columbia County Board of Education this week. Anderson, who has been regularly attending board meetings in recent months, said he wanted to give school officials an idea of how much growth they could expect as the post takes in between 3,700 and 4,000 additional personnel by 2019.
“These numbers could go up or down,” he said. “I don’t think they will go down.”
Anderson, who spoke at the Board’s Tuesday meeting, said the announcement of Army moving its Cyber Command Headquarters to Fort Gordon is only part of the reason for the expected growth. He said the post is also expected to absorb new Army Intelligence units and protection units that will have an even larger impact on raw numbers of personnel.
“The face of Fort Gordon will fundamentally change over the next five years,” he said, explaining that the added personnel and missions will change the post from a signal training installation to one with primary focus on intelligence gathering and analysis.
The new soldiers and civilians coming to Fort Gordon will be, on the whole, better educated and will seek a higher standard of living and good schools. They will also bring with them an estimated 4,000 family members, of which, about 1,800 are expected to be school-age children, Anderson said.
“This workforce is going to be more highly skilled and more senior,” he said.
About 65 percent of school-age children from military families attend Columbia County schools, according to Fort Gordon’s analysis. Anderson said he expects that percentage to swing even more heavily toward Columbia County as the post grows in the next five years. In addition to those with military and civilian jobs on post, Anderson said he expects industries that have business connections to the intelligence and cyber missions will also be bringing in more people outside the post’s gates.
“We would expect that number will go up,” he said.
Board members were pleased to hear about the potential growth, but also concerned about what it might mean for the cash-strapped school system, which already has been adding hundreds of children each year.
Superintendent Sandra Carraway said schools already have more students in classes than the state recommends. To comply with the state class-size standard, Columbia County would have to add 76 more teachers and additional classrooms, she said.
Still, Carraway said the system has been planning for future growth and expects funding from the state E-SPLOST initiative to help them absorb more students.
County growth plans have another elementary school slated to open on William Few Parkway in 2016, when most of the new growth will arrive.
“It’s an exciting time and an uncertain time,” she said. “Until we get hard numbers, all we can do is anticipate.”