Though construction may not start until October and the campus itself won’t be open for business until 2011 at the earliest, the Bryan County Board of Education celebrated a new Richmond Hill Middle School with a ground breaking Monday.
The event was attended by local, state and federal officials, BoE employees and representatives from Rayonier and TerraPointe, which donated the 98.5 acres off Belfast Siding Road in South Bryan where the approximately 210,000 square foot school will sit.School Board Chairman Eddie Warren called the future school the result of cooperation between a number of groups ranging from the BoE to city and county officials and the community at large.
"They all came together to work together for one common goal," Warren said.
U.S. Congressman Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) called the new school proof of the county's dedication to education, naming former educator Pearl Edwards and longtime teacher and school board member Frances Meeks as examples of Bryan’s commitment to its schools.
He also lauded Rayonier.
"This shows what a good corporate citizen can do if they have desire," he said.
Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed called the groundbreaking a momentous occasion.
He spoke of the combined effort to build the school in what he called a ‘choice’ community – choice because people with children choose to move here for the school system while others seek low property taxes.
The new RHMS, which is expected to cost approximately $28 million, is being funded by voter approved special local option sales taxes and the sale of $20 million in bonds, according to officials.
Bids on the new RHMS are expected to be let in the fall.
Designed by the architectural firm of James W. Buckley and Associates, the school will have 93 classrooms and was initially estimated to cost as much as $31 million.
But as the economy soured, the BoE and architect Craig Buckley cut costs by eliminating items such as a bus canopy.
In addition, the BoE is negotiating with the county to provide water and sewer to the site, which officials say will also be the home of a new high school in the future. TerraPointe, the real estate arm of Rayonier, is developing more than 3,300 acres in South Bryan and plans to build more than 15,000 homes and an industrial park.
The current old Richmond Hill Middle School, built in the 1970s, currently has a population of approximately 1,100 students. Once the home of Richmond Hill High School, the older school will be renovated and returned to RHHS where it will be used as a 9th grade academy when the new middle school opens.
South Bryan schools have grown at approximately five percent annually in recent years, according to Interim School Superintendent John Oliver. School officials hope the new middle school will give them some breathing room while they address other building priorities – including a new Bryan County Elementary School.
This fall, the new Richmond Hill Elementary School campus opens for business while the old campus will be used to house other programs.