Columbia County schools already facing overcrowding

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News 12 at 11 o'clock, August 15, 2007

COLUMBIA CTY, Ga.---It's only the second day of class in Columbia County, and some schools are already facing overcrowding.

School board members say their schools are even more crowded this year than the last, but that's what they were expecting. What they weren't ready for was a growing number of kindergartners enrolling in the school system.

Cedar Ridge Elementary opened its doors for the first time this year as the first school in Columbia County to be built to capacity, and it's already facing a common dilemma in the district.

"It's growing tremendously," said principal Dr. Sarah Wall.

The school projected enough room in the 2007 school year for 650 students, and they already have 100 more than that. Those numbers are only expected to grow in the next few weeks because of military families who haven't moved in yet.

"That means more car rides, more bus riders," Dr. Wall said.

It also means more classrooms, forcing the school to add three more kindergarten classes and another fifth grade class to the building.

"We have to keep it under 18 students for early elementary, so it's walking on a tightrope now to hire more teachers or keep what we have," said school board chairman Regina Buccafusco.

That's why Dr. Wall expects to see portables pop up around her school as early as next year.

"It could easily go to that," she said.

While school leaders are planning to build another elementary school near Stevens Creek to alleviate some of the problem in that area, board members say portables aren't going anywhere in the near future.

"We seem to be growing kindergartners. That's the largest increase in the system. And we're planning and making room now, but that's worrisome because they'll be with you the next 12 years," Buccafusco said.

The county hopes to have that new elementary school built and open in the next two years.

Back in the early 80s, there were only 7,000 students in Columbia County. Now there are close to 22,000.

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