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Richmond Hill Middle School to get more classrooms
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Fast growing Richmond Hill Middle School is getting more classrooms and cafeteria space after Bryan County school board members voted March 28 to spend up to $4.46 million on the project.

The school, which opened in 2012 and was expected to hold between 1,500 and 1,600 students, had an enrollment of 1,839 in March, 2020, according to state Department of Education numbers.

That made it the second largest school in Bryan County, trailing only Richmond Hill High School, which had an enrollment of 2,318.

The addition to RHMS will include 10 classrooms, according to the Pope Construction’s Bill Vickery, who serves as construction manager for the school system.

The project will include a 2,880 square foot STEM lab, a fabrication shop and the installation of a 3D printer in a current classroom. It’ll also add an extra 48,000 square feet of cafeteria space.

Vickery told board members much of the work will be handled by local contractors and should be completed by the time school starts in 2021.

“Local participation is still a high priority and we were able to accomplish that,” he said. “What’s most important to us are speed, quality and cost. That’s what makes somebody different from somebody else. We’re getting local people who have the quality, they can provide the speed … and they’re getting in line with the cost, as well. We’re getting the best of all three worlds and we believe that’s very important to the community.”

Bryan County Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher told board members the classroom additions should be sufficient until at least 2026.

A new Richmond Hill High School, which will hold up to 3,500 students, is in the planning stages and is expected to open in about three years. The new Frances Meeks Elementary School is still scheduled to open in the fall. Voters in 2017 approved $100 million in bonds, most of which is expected to go to build the two new schools as well as make additions to existing schools.

When FMES is finished it will be the third school to be built in a six-mile radius since 2012. McAllister Elementary, which cost $19 million and opened in 2015 with an enrollment of about 820, had 1,363 students in March, 2020, according to the DOE.

In other business: - While some area school districts are talking staff furloughs to make up for an expected 14-percent cuts in state funding due to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Brooksher said Bryan County Schools are taking a wait and see approach.

At the school board’s May work session May 14, Brooksher said the system will likely let positions vacated by retirement or resignation stay vacant and “collapse” positions so that teachers won’t be laid off.

It’s unclear how schools in Georgia will reopen, but there are a number of difficulties involved. For example, under current social distancing guidelines only 11 students can fit on a 72-passenger bus, according to school officials – which would drastically increase the time involved in transporting students who ride the bus to and from school.

With seven weeks until schools are set to reopen, Brooksher said school leaders are looking at all options and haven’t announced plans on how the system will reopen in the fall.

“We’d rather get it right than get it out (to the public) and then have to change it,” said BOE District 3 member Derrick Smith. - Melanie James, the school system’s chief financial officer, said the return from students of school-issued Chromebooks were better than expected. Only about six percent were not returned, she said, and only about 1 percent were damaged.

Brooksher said one principal was so determined to get all the school’s Chromebooks back from pupils the principal went to their homes, apparently making such an impression on one family the principal “collected one Chromebook that didn’t belong to the school.”

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