When Grovetown's middle school opens after the winter holidays next year, it will make history.
It will be the first time Columbia County has attempted a midyear opening of a school, Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price said.
"We've never done it before, but we realize we need to relieve Harlem Middle School as soon as we can," he said.
It's a plan that has brought about its own set of challenges and is raising concern among parents.
About 40 parents showed up for a hearing to discuss rezoning pupils to the new Grovetown middle school on Thursday night, but there was less concern about rezoning than there was about opening the new school in the middle of the school year.
"I have an eighth-grader, and to me that's very upsetting," said Blenda Myers, whose daughter will be going to the new school. "My issue is a lot of the eighth-grade students have developed friendships. Then in the last four months of the school year they have to be rivals."
The plan is to divide Harlem's 850-pupil population and its teachers into two schools at the beginning of the school year. Grovetown's pupils and teachers, for the most part, would be placed in the 16 portable units that are at Harlem Middle School.
When school resumes in January, those teachers, pupils and furniture would be moved to the new school.
"Students will go; teachers will go; those classes will remain intact," Price said.
Two schools will essentially operate at one location, Price explained. Each will have its own teachers, the new Grovetown principal, Tom McClendon, will be on duty, and there will be two of everything - football teams, basketball teams, softball teams, tennis teams, cheerleading squads, golf teams and choruses.
"It's past due that we get a new facility and relieve this one, and that's really what this is all about," Price said.
But for parents like Jon White, father of a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader, the move to a new school is long overdue. He attended the meeting with his family.
"A little sooner would have been good, but better late than never," he said.
Price said parents will be able to express concerns before the board Feb. 12.
Three rezoning plans are being considered. The rezoning plans use the existing boundaries of Grovetown, Euchee Creek and North Harlem elementary schools, which feed into the middle schools.
All three plans involve keeping North Harlem Elementary School pupils at Harlem Middle School, while Grovetown Elementary School pupils will go to the new middle school.
The plans differ only in how the Euchee Creek zone is divided.
Officials favor the option that splits that zone in half from Louisville/Old Louisville road to Reynolds Farm Road.
In January the Columbia County Board of Education gave final approval to a construction bid for the new Grovetown school.
LPS Construction of Statesboro, Ga., submitted the low bid of $8.3 million on the school when the bids were opened Jan. 8. The school system budgeted $9.6 million for the project.
In its bid LPS, said construction of the school, which includes 40 classrooms, will take 350 days. The scheduled completion date is Jan. 2. The new Grovetown school would have a 650-pupil capacity.
Price said that in the past middle schools have been built in 14 to 16 months.
Site work, sewer and road improvements are nearly completed at the Grovetown school.
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