Clarke Middle School will get a brand-new facility, eventually. If voters pass another ESPLOST—the sixth—this fall, things could get underway in the spring of 2022.
The Clarke County Board of Education voted unanimously at its regular monthly meeting for a resolution that starts the process for building a new Clarke Middle School. Board member Linda Davis noted that when she attended the school it was “Clarke Junior High School.”
According to John Gilbreath, director of SPLOST facility planning and construction, such a resolution is necessary to acquire state funds to help with construction. He estimates the cost to be roughly $33 million, more than the new Patty Hilsman Middle School, which opened in 2019 at a cost of $26.5 million. About $10 million left over from ESPLOST V, passed in 2016, will also help fund the CMS project.
Clarke Middle is the most crowded of the district’s middle schools, with a 2019 enrollment of 789 students. CCSD figures show that Coile Middle had 717, Hilsman 685 and Burney-Harris-Lyons 694. And CMS is the fastest growing, with a 3.15% growth rate, Gilbreath said. In the past 18 months, the county has had 1,000 permits pulled for single-family home construction, mostly off Tallassee and Cleveland roads. Multi-family complexes are also underway on the west side of the county. Gilbreath is planning for a school capable of accommodating 1,000–1,200 students.
After running the numbers on the cost of renovating the current school campus, Gilbreath said it makes more sense to build a completely new facility. “With renovation and expansion cost estimated at $31.9 million verse $33 million for new construction, our recommendation is to build a new CMS,” he wrote in a report to the school board.
Last fall, CCSD officials sent 52-question surveys about the CMS campus to parents and school staff. Only 10% of the 160 surveys returned were positive.
The problems with the physical plant at CMS are well-known to children and their parents. The rooms have HVAC systems so old that finding replacement parts is difficult, if not impossible. The halls are narrow and dim, the ceilings are stained, and roaches are plentiful. The ceiling of the gym is too low for volleyball games. Gilbreath estimated that the building, by state standards, is about 30,000 square feet too small.
Some other school projects sent students to the former Gaines School Road Elementary while construction was underway, but the district has decided to stop using Old Gaines for that purpose. At CMS, Gilbreath said, the new campus would be built in phases while the students remain in the old building.
There are football fields and practice fields behind and beside the main building where the new CMS will go. The plans include a free-standing, 23,000-square-foot gym, “which could be used for community events,” Gilbreath said. Design charrettes and more meetings are planned for the coming months.
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