Originally created 10/30/00

Area elementary schools face rezoning



Elaine Belcher doesn't know much about Blue Ridge Elementary even though it's about two miles from her Petersburg Station home.

Although Blue Ridge is so close, Mrs. Belcher's two children - second- and fourth-graders - attend South Columbia Elementary.

"I'm real pleased with South Columbia," she said. "I like for my kids to go there, and I want them to finish out there. We've invested a lot of time there. ... We know the staff, all the teachers, the principal. I don't want to change."

Blue Ridge and South Columbia are just two elementary schools that could be affected by rezoning in the next few months as school officials try to provide additional classroom space needed to decrease elementary class sizes.

Education reform mandates for smaller class sizes have increased the demand for more classrooms in Columbia County and other school districts across Georgia. To meet that demand, Columbia County school officials plan to add classrooms at certain schools and possibly rezone the system's more stable attendance zones to move pupils to schools where more space will be available.

Architectural plans are being drawn for 12-room additions at Stevens Creek Elementary and Greenbrier Elementary - the schools most likely to be able to accommodate new pupils through rezoning. A 10-room addition also is planned for Riverside Elementary to alleviate the overcrowding there.

Stevens Creek could be rezoned to take some neighborhoods now zoned for Blue Ridge Elementary. That would open space at Blue Ridge to relieve South Columbia. All three schools are currently at capacity.

Construction on classroom additions could begin as early as January.

With larger cafeterias and media centers, both Stevens Creek and Greenbrier elementaries were designed to be expanded. The additions would allow both schools to decrease their class sizes as required and accommodate new pupils.

But it is still unclear exactly which neighborhoods could be affected.

Word of possible rezoning has begun to spread in some school communities, but other parents - such as Mrs. Belcher - were unaware.

Kim Burns, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Blue Ridge Elementary, said parents there have expressed concerns about potential rezoning and how the new lines might be drawn.

"We all know it's inevitable," she said.

School Superintendent Tommy Price said his office is looking primarily at elementary schools north of Washington Road. However, some schools south of Washington Road - such as Evans Elementary - could have some neighborhoods rezoned to attend Greenbrier Elementary.

"We've got three or four portables at Evans right now," Mr. Price said. "It's a very tight, very small campus. By adding 12 rooms at Greenbrier, there may be a way to give a little relief there."

Greenbrier Elementary is at capacity with about 540 pupils. A 12-room addition could allow the school to hold up to 700. But with lower class sizes and the school's own growth, how many pupils it could take from another zone has not been determined.

"We could not do it with what we have now," Principal Charles Henderson said.

Mr. Price said he plans to have a rezoning proposal ready by Christmas. As with Greenbrier Middle, the superintendent said, he hopes to offer several options and get feedback from parents.

However, he said the process of gathering numbers and mapping which neighborhoods could be rezoned is not far enough along to talk specifics.

"Some of our older schools are now at capacity and in fact have some portables at them, and it's probably not going to be wise to try and expand those," Mr. Price said. "The only way we're going to be able to relieve them is to rezone."

He said the schools most likely affected will be those closer to the schools receiving additions.

"These first rezonings, obviously the schools most likely to be affected are those in the closest proximity to them," Mr. Price said.

Some parents said that, while the idea of rezoning does not make them happy, they want to make sure any rezoning is done fairly.

South Columbia parent Dorrie Garber said she is concerned that rezoning could remove more affluent neighborhoods from affected attendance zones and split schools by socio-economic status.

Schools are like communities, Mrs. Garber and other parents said, and it's hard for children to leave a school they've come to love.

"I know they have to do something about the overcrowding," Mrs. Garber said. "Where are they going to put all the kids?"

Reach Peggy Ussery at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 112.