Thursday, January 23, 2014
Fox Creek High School's expansion is a topic that has been tossed around numerous times over the past few months. However, after much waiting, the school will finally have a chance to grow and get a number of new facilities that have been needed by the students and faculty.
The school has received a $6.7 million loan, with the new facility predicted to cost around $5.7 million. The funds will be used to build a new gymnasium that will house the school's indoor athletics, including basketball and volleyball, provide a staging area for events such as graduation and other functions, and also add a number of additional classrooms.
According to school principal Josh Trahan, the loans have been approved, but the school still has some more work ahead of it before the loan will be committed. Trahan is enthusiastic that ground can be broken at the beginning of March, though realistically it could be the first of April or May. It is all dependent, in Trahan's words, on “the speed of business” and things out of his control. The timetable would put it very close to having the class of 2015's graduation on campus.
The biggest need is the additional classrooms, according to Trahan. Though the school can hold more students, the problem is that teachers have to float between empty classrooms. The teacher-student ratio is roughly 16 or 17 students per class, and there are currently three teachers who are floating.
“I've even talked with the architect about trying to do those first two buildings, with the classrooms, as quickly as possible in this process so I can at least find homes for a couple of folks to avoid the floating,” Trahan said. “It doesn't affect the kids, but it does affect the teachers a little bit to have to bounce around.”
One situation that Trahan said the school has avoided is having too many students in the hallways and in the school. He said that although that has never been a problem and is unlikely to happen, if it came to pass, the South Carolina Public Charter School District would likely request that Fox Creek create a cap. Right now, the student body is around 450 or so students, but Trahan believes they could take in another 100 or so students before running into any problems.
“We have the lockers for them, we have the space for them, but I think we would need to cap it around 525 or 550,” he said. “From there, we would have to go to a lottery system to place students. The lottery system is already laid out by the state; there's nothing complex about it. It's just that if you have an eighth-grade student at Merriwether, one at North Augusta, one at Paul Knox and wherever else, and if they all want to go to our school, their names would go on a list. Then all of the names would go into this big pot and they would be drawn out until you hit your number. There are some provisions for children who are siblings of other kids and things like that to help those families.”
Last year, The Star revealed that Fox Creek was looking to add a middle school.
Trahan said at one point the school thought that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would loan them $12 million, and that would allow for 12 additional classrooms in front of the gymnasium, and separate from the rest of the student body. Those students would only come into the building for electives, such as physical education, band and art. That plan had its supporters and detractors, but all of the decision-makers agreed that a middle school would be a positive for Fox Creek.
“We are in the Merriwether community and we don't want to do anything to diminish the schools that are here,” Trahan said. “We believe it would be a positive for the school as a whole, however. When the USDA came back and said we can do $7 million and that was the number, period. It was a negative and a positive all at once. It resolved all of our questions about a middle school, because it made it impossible to do those classrooms. In fact, it also cut all of the excess out of the loan to where we were only building exactly what we needed. There may be some fluff in there and we may end up with three more classrooms than we will currently use. However, I'm excited about that because you need that room for future expansion. That's obviously not what you need to do a middle school though.”
Trahan said that the original plan “was a good one” and there was “a lot of excitement,” but the reality was that the current students were the ones that needed to be taken care of first. That said, the middle school could still be a long-term goal for Fox Creek depending upon what happens in the next few years.
Another aspect of the school's growth is what it could mean for its region placement. Currently, Fox Creek plays in Region 4-A, but with its growth, the school sits as the No. 4 highest enrolled in all of the Class A schools in the state. At its current student body, the school actually has more students than the smallest Class AA school. Fox Creek could quickly find itself, according to Trahan, in Class AA. The realignment has already been set for the next two years, but it will be set for the following two years sometime toward the middle or end of 2015. That would mean Fox Creek could jump up for the 2016-17 school year.
That could set up a very realistic scenario where Fox Creek and Strom Thurmond would then become region opponents.
“I do expect that we'll go to AA,” Trahan said. “That would be very interesting.”
Scott Rodgers is the news editor at the North Augusta Star and has been with the paper since January 2013 after previously working at the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @NAStarRodgers.