Originally created 05/28/03

Officials say school can run without post



For years, Richmond County school officials dreamed of a having a county school on Fort Gordon.

Last August, that dream became a reality when the doors of Freedom Park Elementary School opened. Less than a year after the school's opening, though, the threat of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Process draws nearer and Fort Gordon officials are scrambling to save the Augusta post.

If the post closes, what happens to the school?

"That was my question when we voted to approve the school," said Richmond County school board member Ken Echols.

The $7.5 million school, which can accommodate up to 650 pupils, is modeled after the Sue Reynolds Elementary School design. The idea of a school on post was first proposed in 1995 by then-board members Mary Oglesby and Cheri Foster.

Before Freedom Park's opening, children were attending Terrace Manor Elementary School, which is about 20 minutes from Fort Gordon's Gate 5. With the school's opening, only military children who live on post are allowed to attend the school, which is off the Avenue of the States.

School system and fort officials have confirmed that the school, which is owned by the Richmond County Board of Education and paid for by taxpayer funds, would continue to operate.

"We did take this into consideration when developing the issue," said Pat Bucholtz, Fort Gordon's strategic management officer.

The school system signed a 50-year lease agreement with the federal government to assure that the school would remain open.

School administrators say that without military families, the school would have to be filled by children from other elementary schools - which would work to alleviate overcrowding at some schools.

"We would definitely have to do some rezoning to make things work, but it would stay open," said county school Superintendent Charles Larke.

Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 823-3552, or ashlee.griggs@augustachronicle.com.