After 2007, the school system may have to build an additional middle school in the south end of the county and an elementary school in the Chickamauga area, Superintendent Roy Sapough said.
The only school with (classroom space) to grow is Fairyland Elementary," said Ed Combs, director of personnel services.
Enrollment at Cherokee Ridge Elementary numbers 825 students and is over capacity, relying on 13 portable classrooms, Combs said.
Sapough said enrollment is more than he or parents would like to see at an elementary school.
LaFayette Middle, at nearly 1,000 students, is also crowded, with 21 portable classrooms.
A large subdivision planned near the school could cause further growing pains, he said.
Building another middle school in south Walker could alleviate the strain on LaFayette Middle and Chattanooga Valley, where another large development is under way.
Rossville Middle, Ridgeland High and LaFayette High could probably handle a small influx of students. If enrollments increased enough at other schools to add teachers, the system would be forced to add portable classrooms, Combs said.
"I think it behooves us to think ahead and plan for the future," the superintendent said.
Meanwhile, Walker County Planning Director Jeff Mullis would like for the county government to be included in the planning to ensure that roads and other infrastructure, for which the county is responsible, can keep pace with the increased traffic and population.
Classes in the Walker County school system will begin Monday, Aug. 2, and enrollments on Wednesday were projected at 8,568, down from 8,788 a few days earlier.
"In my opinion, the school system is in pretty good shape except for the middle schools," Sapough said.
The system is currently building schools to replace Chattanooga Valley and Rossville middle schools, as well as renovating and expanding LaFayette Middle.
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The projects are covered under the system's five-year plan, which coincides with a five-year sales tax to help build schools. The tax, passed by Walker County voters in 2002, could net as much as $19.8 million for the school system, said Tom Taylor, school system finance director.
Most middle schools already have added portable classrooms on their sites to accommodate the increasing number of students and shrinking class sizes. Sapough said he would like to build enough classrooms on existing buildings to eliminate the mobile units.
The system is also upgrading Naomi Elementary with $1.5 million in federal funds, Taylor said. About $2.6 million in federal funds are earmarked for construction at LaFayette Middle.
Officials said schools may eventually be needed in some of the county's more picturesque and less developed areas, such as Kensington and Armuchee, as public water and other services are offered and the population grows.
Mullis said he also foresees rapid commercial and residential growth in the Rock Spring and Peavine communities.
Rapid growth of Catoosa County and good school systems in Northwest Georgia mean Walker County will almost certainly feel growing pains, officials said.
The school system tracks population trends, school enrollments and minimum class size requirements, as well as evaluates the adequacy of current facilities and forecasts future needs. Then projects are prioritized when drafting the system's five-year plan.
School officials said they work with the architectural firm hired by the system and other consultants to develop the plan. The state Department of Education relies on personnel from other school systems to tour schools and review the plan.
The state offers input in the plan because this vision guides the school system's construction projects and must comply with state rules and formulas for allocating state dollars for local capital projects, they said.
"The facilities plan is the key," Taylor said. If the state does not approve the plan, the school system cannot proceed with slated projects.
The plan is so comprehensive and labor intensive, Taylor predicts the system will begin compiling data for the next plan by 2006. The current plan is in a three-inch-thick binder.
The school system generally prioritizes replacing or upgrading its most antiquated buildings. The current plan targets middle schools as the most outmoded because the high schools are fairly new buildings, and many elementary schools are new or have been remodeled recently, he said