The recent announcement that Fort Gordon will become the new home of the Army Cyber Command means even more employees headed to the base and more growth in surrounding areas.
Officials in Columbia County say they are ready for the influx of military personnel, civilian employees and their families to the area.
“It’s coming,” Grovetown Mayor George James said. “If you know it’s coming, you’ve got to be prepared and you’ve got to manage it. If you do that, growth is good.”
The Cyber Command is expected to move about 660 employees to the base. But that’s only one of several expansions at Fort Gordon expected to bring more people to the area, said Thom Tuckey, the executive director of the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon.
“This is probably one of the biggest things ever,” Tuckey said, adding that the only similar event was the rapid growth at Savannah River Site about 60 years ago.
He expects that expansions including the Cyber Command will bring about 4,000 new employees to Fort Gordon over the next five years. About 1,500 of those employees will arrive this year.
Tuckey also expects that an influx of contractors will want to move near Fort Gordon because it is the Cyber Command’s home.
Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said he expects those 4,000 employees to bring their families, resulting in an estimated 10,000 new residents in the area over the next five years.
“This is a really big, and it’s going to have an impact,” Cross said.
James said he expects some of those new residents to find homes in Grovetown.
“We’re kind of getting that feeling because we’re getting people approaching us, developers approaching us about available parcels of property that are in town,” James said. “They know it’s coming. So they are looking to see what they can do to accommodate the growth by housing and whatnot.”
The city has been caught by off-guard before by unexpected growth and began planning for another surge about four years ago by updating infrastructure such as water tanks and water and sewer lines.
A Transportation Investment Act project is in the planning stages and will widen and improve Robinson Avenue to help alleviate the severe rush-hour jams.
Tuckey said government officials are also considering another measure to alleviate traffic congestion that will likely accompany the base’s growth.
One of the options is to build a new gate to replace an existing one that will have more guard stations, be set back from the road to get vehicles out off of the public highways and more traffic stacking lanes.
Another option is to build a new Interstate 20 exit somewhere near Louisville Road and add a more direct route to the base. Such an alternative would help keep much of the fort traffic from going directly through the center of Grovetown and other parts of the county.
As with Grovetown, however, city officials have been expecting and preparing for more residential and commercial growth.
“We feel like we’re very proactive for a small community,” said Harlem Mayor Bobby Culpeppe. “We’re putting things in place now that will safeguard and help try to maintain (what we have).”
City officials have been planning for growth for years by upgrading the city’s water and sewer system and seeking additional water through a connection to McDuffie County.
They are in the planning stages of an Urban Redevelopment Plan. Grovetown passed one a few years ago. The plan will update planning and zoning ordinances to allow the kind of growth officials want.
“Growth is going to happen,” Culpepper said. “You either plan for it and manage it well or you don’t plan for it and it comes and it’s very regretful.”
The Columbia County school system is anticipating more children in county schools as a result of the base growth. They are trying to prepare for about 1,750 new pupils over the next few years. School board member Roxanne Whitaker said an ongoing rezoning plan should alleviate crowding at schools near the base.
A new school to be funded by the 1-cent sales tax has already been approved by voters, and plans are to build a larger Harlem Middle and Grovetown Elementary schools and enlarge North Harlem Elementary.
Tuckey said he doesn’t expect Columbia County to just see residential growth as a result of the base expansion.
He expects a huge economic effect and new businesses to sprout up, too.
“That’s just jobs at Fort Gordon,” Tuckey said. “There will be a large influx of contractors who will want to be in this area because this will be the Cyber Command.”