Ground broken for new school

For the first time in about five years, a new school will be constructed from the ground up in Johnson County.

Work will begin next month to install utilities lines to prepare for a new 160,000-square-foot Greenwood Middle School, which will be built off Averitt Road on the city’s southwest side.

Before the school opens in 2017 or 2018, the city will need to widen Averitt Road to prepare for the traffic picking up and dropping off as many as 1,100 students, and both school and city officials will need to decide what should happen to the former middle school building, on Madison Avenue, just south of downtown Greenwood.

The three-story, $27 million middle school is the first brand new school building to be constructed in the county since Clark-Pleasant Middle School was built in 2011. A new Indian Creek Elementary School is under construction but is being built as a wing that connects to the intermediate school. It is slated to be open for the 2016-2017 school year.

Greenwood school officials proposed the new middle school in March, saying it was needed because it would cost just as much to repair the current school as build a new one.

Since then, the school board approved borrowing $43 million, and taxpayers will pay that back over 20 years, starting in 2018. The construction project includes building a $4.8 million activities complex next to the high school, which could be used for sporting events and a meeting space for clubs, and a new heating and air conditioning system for Northeast Elementary School.

The total project was more than the amount required to go to public referendum and be approved by voters, but the school district did not have to do that because it could cover the cost of the project without raising property taxes. The school district owed $11.2 million before these projects, and the school district would have had their debt paid off by 2020.

This week, school officials had a groundbreaking ceremony for the new middle school, where local and state officials spoke. Superintendent Kent DeKoninck congratulated all current and past board members for putting the school district in the current financial situation to be able to afford building a new structure without raising taxes.

“Me, being the mayor, also having grown up here, went to school at the middle school. It’s such a privilege for me to be able to be a part of this next generation,” Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said.

Sixth-grader Andrew Jones said that he was excited and eager for the new school to open its doors so he can play instruments in a larger band room, have more students in the choir room and use improved science labs.

“My friends and I are really excited for this to happen because it gives us an opportunity to set a good example and tone for the school,” Andrew said. “New things can be scary, but trust me, this one is great.”

Construction will begin in January or February, Greenwood assistant superintendent Todd Pritchett said.

The new middle school, which will be north of Freedom Park, will be 7 percent larger than the existing middle school, with a three-story academic wing.

Wi-Fi ports will be incorporated throughout the school building, in case the school district decides to assign laptops or iPads to students in the future. Having this school prepared with the latest technology possible will help students academically, said State Rep. Woody Burton, who represents parts of Franklin, Greenwood and Whiteland.

New features, such as flexible classroom space, which allows teachers to use meeting space or a more structured classroom, a wrestling room and a green screen in the computer resource room already are marked on the blueprints for the building.

But other details will need to be figured out before the school opens, including how to handle increased traffic.

The school will be built on undeveloped land near Freedom Park and a new aquatic center, which opened this year, along with hundreds of homes that have been built on the southwest side of the city in the past several years. Residents who live in that area have already raised concerns about how the city will handle traffic, especially at the nearby intersection of Averitt and Stop 18 roads.

City officials are studying and estimating the expected traffic congestion on Averitt Road once the school opens and already have planned some improvements.

Greenwood city engineer Mark Richards said turning lanes that allow vehicles to turn into the school will be installed on the west side of Averitt Road. On the east side, wide shoulders will allow drivers to go around stopped traffic turning into the school.