A plan for a  junior middle school at its Skelton Road campus got a green light at the Jan. 10 meeting of the Jackson County Board of Education.

The move comes after weeks of intense discussions among the board and system leaders about how best to relieve overcrowding at schools on the west side of the county.

In December, the BOE and staff were leaning toward adding middle school classrooms on the campus of the Empower academy in Jefferson as a temporary solution to the overcrowding. But concerns about how that would impact the Empower campus, along with pushback by some parents and financial concerns pushed system leaders to look for an alternative solution during the holiday break.

The result was a plan to build a "core" school facility on Skelton Rd. for grades 5-6 that will open in the fall of 2023. The core building will be the basic campus, but won't have a gym or completed athletic fields and some of its labs will be unfinished.

The 5-6 junior middle school configuration would give relief to both West Jackson Middle School's massive overcrowding and to west side elementary schools by shifting some 5th graders to the new facility. WJMS would become a 7-8 school.

FINANCIAL & TIMING CONCERNS

The reason for the scaled-down aspect of the new facility is cost. To build a complete facility would cost over $41 million, something the system can't afford.

By scaling down to just a core "must-have" building, the cost comes in at $33.7 million, which is the amount the BOE approved Jan. 10. Funding for the new facility will come from SPLOST funds and the recent sales of unused property by the system. No reserves or general fund dollars would be needed, officials said.

In 2024, the system plans to have a bond referendum and allocate funds to complete the facility from those bonds.

The timing of the move was also discussed by the BOE. Given recent supply-chain delays in construction materials, especially in steel, system officials said they wanted to move quickly to book materials so that construction could begin this spring.

Even with a decision made, there will continue to be overcrowded conditions at west side schools next year, a situation that will likely call for additional portable classrooms on several campuses. A preliminary estimate indicates that WJMS will need 6-8 additional units for 2022-2023; WJES 4 additional units; NJES 4-6 units; and GSES 4-6 units.

WJMS currently has 1,365 students while West Jackson Elementary has 1,090 and Gum Springs Elementary 1,047 students. North Jackson Elementary School, which is also in the West Jackson Cluster, has 547 students and is poised to see a boom in growth as new housing in the area comes online.

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business, the BOE approved:

• a low bid for the replacement of remaining wireless equipment at a cost of $364,500.

• an easement for the City of Hoschton across some school property.

• updated job descriptions and a revised organizational chart.

• A series of personnel moves, including the retirement of Chanda Palmer as principal of East Jackson Comprehensive High School at the end of the school year.

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