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School's out?

POSTED: July 12, 2007 5:02 a.m.

The various school construction projects are currently moving as projected toward completion.

There is a new band and chorus room at South Effingham Middle School, nearly 7,500 square feet large, and there is a new gym at South Effingham High School. Both of these projects are moving forward, and should be ready for use in the fall.

“The contractors are finishing up,” Slade Helmly, Effingham County school system director of administrative services, said of the SEMS addition. “They are laying in the ceiling tile now, which is one of the last things you have to do. It will be in real good shape for occupancy when school starts. It’s a fantastic building.”

The auxiliary gym under way at SEHS is on about the same schedule as the band/chorus room at the adjacent SEMS, Helmly said.

“We’re in good shape there, too,” he said. “They’re finishing up the last of the electrical. That gym has a wooden floor in it. Naturally, that’s scheduled to be installed in the next few weeks.”

Effingham County High School and SEHS each are having 18 classrooms added.

At ECHS the 18 classrooms will be housed in one new wing. At SEHS, there are additions to existing wings to add the new classes.

“What we need to have ready is this wing at Effingham High School, and we need to have six classrooms out of the 18 ready at (SEHS) to start school,” Helmly said. “All along we knew it was going to be a tight time schedule there. We asked the school principals and the instructional people to make provisions for contingency if we’re not ready.

“Right now we’re being told that everything is fine. While the most recent rains have been a blessing, we wish it wouldn’t have rained over the two acres where the construction is going on.”

Helmly said he asks the owner of the contracting company every time he sees him how the project is progressing, and so far he has been told things are on schedule.

“We’ll be right down to the last minute moving in,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and make bold statements that absolutely we will be in there, but everything seems to be positive right now.”

Helmly said the worst-case scenario would be that some teachers would have to “float” until the wings are completed.

“There’s available room if the wings are not ready for the kids, it might be that they might not be housed in the classroom that they will be in,” he said.

Helmly said the system is comfortable about the progress on the additions at ECHS and SEHS.

“All of the classrooms at South Effingham High School will not be ready,” he said. “We know that, and we made a priority for the contractor to have 18 ready at Effingham High and six ready at South Effingham High.”

The intent of the classroom additions is a move to a ninth-grade academy.

“It offers a much better transition from the middle school to the high school and improves graduation rates,” Helmly said. “That’s the rationale behind the six being the priority at South Effingham High School because those six are the extension of a previously existing first wing, which will allow that whole wing to be the ninth grade academy. (At ECHS) the ninth grade academy just came out (of) the front.”

He said the two buildings presented different needs and challenges because of the layout of the property, which is the reason the additions are being done differently.

He said there are also classroom additions at South Effingham Middle School, which is having 10 classrooms added, Ebenezer Middle School, which is having six classrooms added, and Sand Hill Elementary, which is having 12 classrooms added.

He said the classroom additions at SEMS and EMS will be completed around or just following Christmas, and the additions at Sand Hill will be the last to be completed. Currently the classrooms at Sand Hill are projected to be completed in late winter or early spring 2008.

“The elementary addition at Sand Hill is fueled by growth,” Helmly said. “It’s not necessarily fueled by growth in the Sand Hill Elementary district, but that will be forthcoming. There are no firm dates here.”

Helmly said there is progress being made in the plans for the new Effingham County Middle School.

“We have settled on a footprint for the school that allows us to do some very attractive things with transportation,” he said. “It allows us to share a common bus loading area, it will in effect particularly in the afternoon, and morning relieve a whole lot of congestion on 119. We’ll probably shorten a typical student’s afternoon ride on the school bus by 15 to 20 minutes just by the savings in time it takes us to transfer between schools.”

He said the system has given the go ahead for the architect’s civil engineer to send plans to the Army Corps of Engineers because the wings and bus loading areas impact on wetlands.

“Any time you impact wetlands, the Corps has to approve that, and we’re being told that that takes between four and six months,” Helmly said.

He said the plans were sent out six to eight weeks ago.

He said while they are waiting for approval they are finalizing plans to will enable them to begin construction as soon as the project is approved. He said it could be as late as October before approval is granted.

Helmly said in that time frame there could be a scheduled opening of the new school in fall 2009.


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