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Construction continues at Gwinnett's most expensive high school

Under construction at 2136 Old Norcross Road in Lawrenceville, the yet-to-be-named Berkmar/Central Gwinnett relief cluster high school is scheduled to open in August 2015 with between 700 and 900 students, and eventually welcome 2,000 students. (Special Photo)

Under construction at 2136 Old Norcross Road in Lawrenceville, the yet-to-be-named Berkmar/Central Gwinnett relief cluster high school is scheduled to open in August 2015 with between 700 and 900 students, and eventually welcome 2,000 students. (Special Photo)

LAWRENCEVILLE — Situated in a busy traffic corridor between Old Norcross Road and Ga. Highway 316, Gwinnett’s next new high school is a visible sign that growth in the county has returned.

Projected to one day welcome 2,000 students, the yet-to-be-named Berkmar/Central Gwinnett relief cluster high school at 2136 Old Norcross Road is scheduled to open in August 2015, with between 700 and 900 students. As construction crews from the Carroll Daniel Construction Company of Gainesville progressed in recent days as the temperature plunged, one of the benefits of working under an existing roof — being out of the weather — was revealed.

The largest building project ever by Gwinnett County Public Schools is designed to provide students creative instructional programs not seen in a typical high school, said Danny Jardine, chief operations officer.

This is the eighth recent new school that Carroll Daniel has constructed in the district, and the company also completed three additions to existing schools.

The price tag, $63.5 million, was $602,000 lower than the next lowest bidder, but is more than recent new schools such as Lanier High ($50.7 million) and the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology ($35.4 million), which both opened in 2010.

The school will also create a new cluster, the 19th in the district, which will be named after the school, the first geographic attendance zone to open since Lanier High opened in 2010. New schools are typically named in the winter or spring before they open. One of the more noticeable changes that community members have already noticed is the new school will breed new sports rivalries.

“Our community comes together to help form that cluster and learning community,” district spokesman Jorge Quintana said. “We’re very fortunate to be in an area where our parents are very supportive and become involved in that process, and students and parents will be involved with the selection of colors and a mascot. It’s always a very exciting opportunity and exciting time.”

The building is a former warehouse once occupied by Bridgestone Tire, but was not in operation when the district purchased the property in 2005 for $6.7 million. While weather protection was a positive in this project, Jardine said the major challenge is to bring an older warehouse building up to current codes while providing an aesthetically-pleasing exterior and learning environment.

The district previously converted similar projects for the new Northbrook Middle, Give West, Radloff Middle and Phoenix High.

“This concept has served us well by providing a new facility in excellent locations where good vacant land sites are scarce,” Jardine said.

Jardine said the higher cost of the project is related to the added space that allows for an entrepreneurship program and a BizTown-like experience.

“We have a team that is working on the development of these programs and how they will be delivered to students,” he said.

That space is 650,000 square feet, compared with recent school openings such as Lanier High, which is 457,222 square feet, Archer High, which is 462,795 square feet and Mountain View, which is 462,795 square feet, which all opened in 2009 or 2010.

The new high school is a another sign that growth has returned to Gwinnett.

Earlier this year, the district’s enrollment included 4,173 new students, which caused it to hire about 40 new teachers. It was a bounce back from last year’s number of new students — 265 — compared with the 2007-08 year, which saw 3,574 new students. The 2012-13 school year was the first time in more than a decade that the district did not open a new facility.

District officials have said in previous years that the growth slowdown gave them a chance to catch their breath and play catch-up.

Jardine said the gap in constructing new schools was planned and tied to funding. Moore Middle opened in 2011 as part of Phase II of the building program funded by general obligation bonds approved in 2008. Northbrook Middle, which will open in August, is the first new school opening in Phase III, which is funded by the renewal of the special local option sales tax approved by voters in 2011.

“GCPS has been and continues to be a growing school system,” Jardine said. “While enrollment growth slowed over the past few years, the school district still was growing.”