With the struggles Evans High School has endured the past two years being reclassified into the Georgia High School Association's Class AAAAA because of its size, school officials last year debated whether to build a new high school.
But officials decided instead to spend around $6 million to expand three existing schools.
Dr. Jerry Rochelle, director of facilities services with the State Department of Education, said the Columbia County Board of Education's decision was financially a wise one.
"When you build additions - classrooms attached to existing schools - its much less expensive in gross dollars," he said. "You don't have to buy or prepare a new site for construction - grading, utilities, paving. You don't have to build high-priced components such as a kitchen, gym, media center or high-cost vocational technical classrooms."
Schools are like cars, he said: you can build a Cadillac, a Ford or a Yugo. A new $57 million showplace was just built in Marietta. The high school has about 1,800 students, approximately the same number as Evans High.
"If it's a Mercedes, it will cost $57 million. If it's a Ford Focus, it will cost $18 million," Rochelle said. "In your area, $25 million to $35 million (to build an 1,800 student high school) would be a realistic price."
Excluding the price of the land, the state would likely pitch in half the cost to build a new high school.
"Building additions is much less expensive than building a new school, but you get to the point after while where you are going to have to build a new high school. There is state money available, but it will take a good bit of local money, too."
Construction is now underway to add a total of 37 new classrooms to Greenbrier, Lakeside and Evans high schools. The only high school that won't grow in size this year is Harlem.
"Evans High will be ready before school begins, Greenbrier will have one or two wings completed, but the third wing will not be finished, and at Lakeside it will be second semester before the new classrooms are ready," said Charles Nagle, associate superintendent for student and school services.
A 10-room addition is under construction at Evans High School, including an art room. One area of concentration will be the band room, which will get indoor restrooms and additional storage space.
The result of the $2 million project will be 21,494 square feet of additional space at the school.
Evans has 13 portable classroom units now, but will be hauling eight of them off before school begins.
Construction work will not be done before school begins at Lakeside High School, where 15 new classrooms, including a band room, are being added. The $2.1 million construction project will add 3,000 square feet of space to the school. Lakeside is now relying on eight portable classroom units to handle its overflow.
"We hope to move the portables once the classrooms done, which will free-up parking for employees," said Nagle.
The parking lot has also been reconfigured, re-topped and re-striped, with about 50 new parking spaces added.
"We've also gone ahead and paved the area where students were parking on the grass," Nagle said. "By making it a formal parking area we would like to think we are getting between 80 to 100 more spaces. We were already parking 65 to 70 on that lower area. This should really help for the time being."
Twelve new classrooms will be added to Greenbrier High School, three of which will be science labs.
But school officials admit the new classrooms are being built to handle existing growth - there's no wiggle room for any future growth.
Greenbrier High, which opened in 1996, had a student population of about 1,370 students last year. The new classrooms will only take care of existing needs, said former Principal Gloria Hamilton.
"We're floating teachers right now. These classrooms are just going to get rid of my floating teachers, it's not that we're going to have additional classrooms. I don't know when we'll get to the stage of every teacher having their own classroom."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.