Communities will rally around their high schools, particularly their sports teams, says former Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau. With that in mind, he's looking forward to the opening of the new Grovetown High School.
"It will be a morale booster for the town and also for the children. The schools are really the catalysts for the towns," Mr. Trudeau said. "It's the glue and the cement that gets us all together. We've been waiting for that school for a long time."
Penny Jackson, an assistant principal at Greenbrier High School who was named Grovetown High's principal in March, is just as anxious.
"I drive over there and sit in the parking lot at least twice a week," she said.
She is keeping a close eye on the construction, and the ever-changing landscape on the Chamblin Road site gives her plenty of progress to monitor. Cinder block walls show the outline of the school. Stacks of bricks lie on the ground. Light towers rise over the future athletic fields.
Administrators are working just as hard behind the scenes to ensure the school will be ready for business and prepared to build its own identity when it opens in 2009.
Ms. Jackson said she hopes to offer 12 to 14 Advanced Placement classes, depending on registration numbers, during the first year.
The facility also will feature eight vocational programs -- agriculture, automotive, broadcasting, business and technology, commercial foods, cosmetology, metals and Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
"Every single student will be provided an opportunity to excel that not every high school can offer," Ms. Jackson said.
She has plans to unite a student body that will come from six schools -- Evans, Harlem and Greenbrier high schools and Columbia, Greenbrier and Grovetown middle schools.
She also has been researching the area's history to come up with a school seal and honor code.
"You want it to mean something because you're starting something that will be with that school forever," she said. "I just really want (everyone) to feel like they belong."
Ms. Jackson said she hopes to hold middle school dances for future Grovetown High students at a neutral site next year, and she plans to visit all of the county high schools to see how they operate.
"Whatever we do at Grovetown is brand new," Ms. Jackson said. "I'd like to pull from the best of what other schools are doing."
The principal also plans to visit merged high schools in Rome, Ga., and Forsyth and Jefferson counties to see "what they did well and what needs to be tweaked."
Ms. Jackson also would like to seek input from future students. She said she hopes to form a committee of current sophomores, who will be seniors when the school opens, to hear their ideas.
The school colors will be red, white, blue and silver, and its mascot will be a warrior.
Ms. Jackson said she would like art students at the feeder schools to work on a design for the mascot.
Students find outlets of expression through extracurricular activities and learn to communicate in high school, she said, and young people start to develop their identities during their high school years.
Columbia County school board member Mike Sleeper agreed.
"It's a very memorable time in their lives," he said. "You don't have middle school reunions. You don't have elementary school reunions. You have high school reunions."
Scott Dean, the former Harlem mayor, said Harlem High is a focal point for the community. He said Friday night football games are a major social gathering.
"That's a big deal. That's where folks go," Mr. Dean said.
He said he is looking forward to the inevitable rivalry between Harlem and Grovetown high schools.
Reach Betsy Gilliland at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY THE NUMBERS
1,230: Projected number of students
52: Miles covered by the Grovetown High zone
12-14: Projected number of Advanced Placement courses
8: Vocational, or career pathways, programs
$26 million: Cost of building
$40 million: Total cost of project
Source: Columbia County Board of Education