Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan While enrollment numbers continue to rise in Gwinnett County Public Schools, growth has slowed. The 2012-13 school year marks the first time in more than a decade that the district has not opened a new facility. The site of the future Berkmar/Central clusters relief high school, above, in Lawrenceville was purchased in 2005, but remains unused. Officials have plans to open the school in 2015.
Increases in teachers and students year by year
2007-08: 1,807 teachers; 3,574 students
2008-09: 1,174 teachers; 1,601 students
2009-10: 742 teachers; 2,079 students
2010-11: 806 teachers; 1,446 students
2011-12: 646 teachers; 1,626 students
2012-13: 615 teachers; 265 students
SUWANEE -- In July 2007, Gwinnett County Public Schools welcomed nearly 1,800 educators to the annual new teacher orientation at the Arena at Gwinnett Center because there were no district-owned facilities that could accommodate such a massive group.
Times have changed. The number of teacher hires has gone down fairly consistently over the past several years. Several weeks ago, a teacher orientation held at Peachtree Ridge High School's auditorium welcomed about 600 teachers, which were easily accommodated in the school facility.
One can note a similar pattern in the increase of new students. In the 2007-08 academic year, the district had 3,574 new pupils.
In the 2012-13 school year: 265.
While growth continues in the district, officials agree it has screeched to a near halt. It's no reflection of anything wrong with GCPS, said District IV Board of Education Member Robert McClure.
"It's reflective of the slowed growth in the county, and it's reflective of the economy," McClure said. "The fact that we're still increasing our numbers at all is the most remarkable thing to me. That's amazing in itself."
District Spokesman Jorge Quintana said that while the growth has indeed slowed, "it's given Gwinnett County Public Schools a chance to catch up and some room to breathe."
He noted that there are still some schools which are over capacity. "Not having thousands new at the beginning of each year gives us room to play catch-up and plan as we keep growing," Quintana said.
While some schools are over capacity, others still have yet to be built.
For instance, the district purchased a $6.7 million piece of property on Old Norcross Road in Lawrenceville for a future Berkmar/Central cluster relief high school during the 2005-06 school year. Leaders have plans to open the facility in 2015.
Quintana noted that the money used to purchase the property for the future high school was earmarked for facilities as part of education special purpose local option sales tax dollars. The money could not have been spent on anything other than capital projects, he said.
While new construction awaits sites owned by GCPS, renovations of old buildings continue in the district as the 2012-13 school year begins on Monday.
Paid for through the most recent iteration of E-SPLOST, North Gwinnett High and Rockbridge Elementary School are undergoing major face lifts.
At Rockbridge Elementary, the district is removing the original building and some small additions that were constructed almost 50 years ago. The project involves construction of a new three-story building of classrooms, computer labs, a medical center, kitchen, cafeteria, gym and administration area.
North Gwinnett High School will have a large three-story addition constructed to replace older buildings built in the 1950s and '60s. School principal Ed Shaddix said Suwanee "was a different place when this (school) was built. You could have never predicted the kind of growth this place has seen in the last decade and a half. Those facilities were just not adequate for what we were doing."
Other SPLOST IV dollars are slated to be used by 2017 for the construction of five new schools, one bus facility and other additions and renovations.
"We plan to build those schools and make those improvements," Quintana said. "In the meantime, we are going to catch up with the growth we've seen in the previous several years."
Staff Writer Keith Farner contributed to this story.