Richmond County school officials will hear public input on the plan at three town-hall style meetings in February before the Board of Education approves any final action.
Planners with Montgomery Education Consultants suggested closing Collins Elementary School; merging Murphey Middle and T.W. Josey High into a 6-12 school; consolidating National Hills and Garrett elementary schools; merging Sego Middle and Butler High into a 6-12 school; relocating Rollins Elementary into the vacant Sego building; building a new K-8 school for west Augusta to accommodate expected growth in the area; and adding a sixth-grade class to A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School.
Benton Starks, the senior director of facilities and maintenance, regarded the consultants’ plan as a way to solve issues at overcrowded and under-used schools and to more efficiently offer academic programs to students.
“Some of these schools are too small to have separate programs in art and foreign language,” Starks said. “It’s not just about redirecting operating funds. It’s about offering more of those programs.”
Montgomery said Collins is a candidate for closure in May because this summer’s demolition of Cherry Tree Crossing housing project is expected to affect 75 percent of students. Enrollment is expected to be below 150 after the complex closes, and the school has lost 120 students since December, Montgomery said.
Wilkinson Gardens Elementary, Craig-Houghton Elementary and W.S. Hornsby K-8 would absorb those students, depending on their neighborhoods.
Officials said the Collins building would not be demolished and could be rented out for use or preserved for future revitalization of the area.
Josey High’s enrollment has steadily dropped over the last five years, leaving its building at 46 percent capacity, while enrollment at its feeder school, Murphey Middle, has fluctuated.
About $15 million was allocated from the 2012 special purpose local option sales tax to demolish the Murphey building on Milledgeville Road and build a new facility.
With demolition complete, the rightsizing plan suggests appropriating Murphey’s special purpose tax money to build a middle school wing at Josey, making the school a 6-12 model. The transition would be phased in, with rising eighth-graders moving to Josey in May and rising sixth- and seventh-graders moving in 2015.
In this model, the middle school students would take advantage of Josey’s Early College Readiness Program.
Montgomery said he expects the majority of staff to follow students to the affected schools.
A similar scenario would occur with Sego Middle students relocating to the Butler High campus on Lumpkin Road by May 2019. Butler was awarded $20 million in special purpose local option sales tax funds in 2012 for a new facility, and those funds would be used to accommodate a middle school wing in the ongoing construction.
“It gives you that comprehensive, cohesive 6-12, and it gives you some of the academic programs that allows students in the middle school years to take courses they’d not necessarily be able to take while sitting in a middle school,” Montgomery said.
Planners suggested relocating the Rollins population in 2019 to the Sego site, where there are at least 175 additional seats, opening the door for more academic programs and offerings.
With Garrett and National Hills elementary schools less than a mile apart and both under capacity, the schools would consolidate into the Garrett building, which had a $9 million makeover in 2011.
The combined enrollment would be about 500 students, and some classrooms would have to be added, but Montgomery said the district could save $600,000 in the first year with the consolidation.
A K-8 school was suggested for west Augusta to accommodate growth from new construction in the area and the influx of families expected from the incoming Army Cyber Command relocating to Fort Gordon.
“What is absolutely happening in Richmond County is an increase in the building,” Montgomery said, adding funding would come from the next round of special purpose sales tax. “In west Richmond County, there’s a number of schools over there now that are overcrowded … if the housing takes off, as it looks like it might, there could be an immediate need for a new school.”
Superintendent Frank Roberson said the suggestions are being considered by his cabinet but that community input will be a major factor before anything is finalized.
The board approved three dates in February to hold town hall meetings, where all the information will be shared and open for comment.
“We’re looking at these as possible benefits to the schools in terms of making the best use of our facilities and being able to provide the best educational programs for our children,” he said.