The best news to come from word of the sudden uptick in Columbia County school population is that county officials are pushing ahead with plans to build a new elementary school in the Evans area.
Lewiston Elementary opened this year, providing badly needed relief to more than a half-dozen schools in the Martinez-Evans area. This years enrollment figures, as a result, show reduced populations at Bel Air, Brookwood and Martinez elementary.
But even at their peak, none of those schools came close to the size of Blue Ridge, Stevens Creek or Riverside Elementary schools. Only Brookwood broke 700 in pupil population last year, and now has a more manageable 573 students. But Blue Ridge this year has 721, Stevens Creek has 822, and Riverside is nearly bursting at the seams with a whopping 954 students.
Those schools are bigger than most middles schools - and Riverside is bigger than all of them, with a population nearly as big as Harlem High School was last year!
To make matters worse, the area of Evans served by those schools is getting pumped up with new development, meeting the demand of parents seeking the high-ranking schools. (An example: Columbia Countys new Development Authority director, whose job is to help lure industry to Columbia County, actively sought his own new home in the area served by the big three elementary schools.)
To the rescue is a plan by School Superintendent Tommy Price to expedite acquisition of a piece of Evans property for a new elementary school to relieve the burden. Thats our most pressing need, Price tells trustees. Weve definitely got to pick up that site in short order.
Its a course we applaud - and not just because we recommended it years ago.
Back when Debbie Brooks was a member of the school board - she was replaced in 2000 by Wayne Bridges - we agreed with her suggestion that the school system buy land in Evans because of pending demand.
Instead, school officials picked the Lewiston site to help relieve pressure from older schools that were harder to expand, and added classrooms at the newer schools to take on the extra load.
No question that move was needed, too. But now with a mammoth apartment complex being built in Bel Airs zone, the relief may only be temporary. And with construction booming in Evans, relief for Riverside, Stevens Creek and Blue Ridge is becoming more acute.
The good news? Price also reports that the school system ended 2002-03 with lower expenditures than expected, so the countys surplus has now risen to $30 million. Thats more than enough money to maintain a comfortable reserve fund, while buying land for a new elementary school - and maybe even moving ahead with planning on a fifth high school.
Land, after all, isnt getting any cheaper - thanks to the desirability of our schools.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.