Construction would occur in the 2016-17 school year if all goes as planned, said Chris Ragsdale, the district’s deputy superintendent of operational support.
Because state law requires new elementary schools to be constructed on at least 15 acres, the 11 schools that made Superintendent Michael Hinojosa’s short list for rebuilding will have to be built at new locations.
The board is expected to select the two new schools by its Dec. 11 meeting, said Board Chair Randy Scamihorn. Each has a construction budget of about $23 million.
None of the schools on the list have the required amount of adequate land and space, Ragsdale said, although the district can apply for a waiver to rebuild a school on a smaller plot of land or current school property if it choses.
While district officials say it’s too early to predict what schools will be rebuilt, board members were concerned with the length of time it could take the district to find and purchase viable land at last Thursday’s board meeting, which pushed back an initial vote Scamihorn had hoped to make.
Scamihorn hoped the board would select the two schools by Nov. 13, but protests from fellow board members, including Kathleen Angelucci, bumped the vote to the Dec. 11 meeting, in order to give more time for board members to visit schools and make prudent decisions.
Board members David Banks and Scott Sweeney were concerned that the district would need many months of hard work to find and purchase quality land for the new schools, a process that is unpredictable and premature to start worrying about, Ragsdale said at last week’s meeting.
The board will first focus on selecting the two schools to be built. It is too early to discuss applying for state waivers and locating new property, Scamihorn said.
“Before I worry about the land I have to make a decision about what schools will be rebuilt,” he said.
Hinojosa shortlisted the following schools for rebuilding:
• Argyle Elementary School;
• Belmont Hills Elementary and LaBelle Elementary to be consolidated, relocated and rebuilt;
• Brumby Elementary to be relocated and rebuilt;
• Clay Elementary and Harmony Leland Elementary to be redistricted, relocated and consolidated, and Riverside Elementary, currently a 2-5 school, and Riverside Primary, a K-1 school, to be consolidated into one school;
• Mountain View Elementary to be relocated and rebuilt;
• Powers Ferry Elementary and Eastvalley Elementary to be consolidated, relocated and rebuilt;
It is an impractical use of the limited SPLOST IV funds to build a new school that enrolls less than about 1,000 students, Ragsdale said, which is why many of the schools on the list are proposed for consolidation.
Parents at Eastvalley Elementary voiced concerns last week about building new elementary schools the size of high schools, and were worried their young children would lose the small community offered at their current schools.
Carol Murray, who has a kindergartener at Eastvalley Elementary, said an elementary school of more than 1,000 students was too big, that she and other parents enjoy, “the fact that we know all the teachers and the teachers know us. There is a greater sense of community in a smaller environment.”
Hinojosa said there was no evidence to how well students performed in bigger vs. smaller-sized schools at Thursday’s meeting.
“I don’t think size should matter as much as what is the atmosphere of the school,” Scamihorn said.
What was most important was selecting the schools with the most need by December, he added, as there was very little money to solve the problems of so many schools.
There is $10 million allocated for purchasing land to build the new schools on, with some additional money still available from SPLOST III, Ragsdale said, although he could not give an exact amount.
The district estimates each new elementary school will cost about $23.3 million, Ragsdale said.
There are 68 elementary schools in Cobb County, and the eleven schools included on Hinojosa’s shortlist were selected with the following criteria in mind: the number of portable classrooms, the last construction done on the school, if the district would need to buy or sell land to rebuild the school, the school’s enrollment, the capacity of the schools, the age of facility and the total amount of previous SPLOST funds spent on the school, Ragsdale said.
Once both options are voted on, the district will begin searching for land, and if it cannot find land at a decent price, or in a reasonable area, they will consider applying for a state waiver, Ragsdale said.
“Unless there is something there that is really strict, I wouldn’t think the state would care where we build it unless we build it over a volcano,” Scamihorn said.