By Katie Fallon

The Fulton County school district is now one step closer to alleviating the overcrowding in the elementary schools of Sandy Springs.

On May 3, the district hosted a groundbreaking ceremony at the 13.8 acre site that will become the Lake Forrest Elementary School. The school grounds are located off Cliftwood Drive between Lake Forrest Drive and Sandy Springs Circle.

During the groundbreaking, Fulton County’s Superintendent of Schools James Wilson presented local school board member Gail Dean with a “shovel of honor” to mark the beginning of the new school’s construction. Wilson said he looked forward to the relief the new school will bring the community.

“This is going to be a great addition to Sandy Springs,” Wilson said. “We’re excited.”

In total, 24 parcels of land were purchased for $14,286,116 to complete the nearly 14-acre site. The money for the new school came though revenue generated by the Fulton school board’s second Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), which was passed in 2002. Major Sandy Springs projects expected to be funded by SPLOST III, which was passed in March of this year, include another new elementary school and a 70,000 square foot, 39-classroom addition to Ridgeview Charter Middle School.

Although the school’s narrow construction site is still a bit of an eyesore, the district is planning for Lake Forrest Elementary to be open by August, 2008. However, because of the rectangular nature of the site, the school will have an unusual layout.

The future Lake Forrest Elementary School, the name of which will not be finalized until a principal is appointed and a naming committee is formed, will include three stories. Kindergarten will be located on the first floor with first and second grades on the second floor and third through fifth grades on the third floor. The school’s main, parent entrance will be on the second floor, with an additional entrance on the first floor.

The site plan for the school, which will include a total of 56 classrooms, also includes three age-appropriate play structures, a 10,000 square foot concrete play pad and a 1.6-acre, grass play area.

The firm of Collins Cooper Carusi Architects has come up with the design for the school and the surrounding grounds. Partner Jeff Juliano said the many elements of the new school were not picked out until after the 13.8-acre site was purchased.

“This [school] was designed specifically for this site,” Juliano said. “Our focus has always been natural light. All of the classrooms will have windows.”

In addition to the many windows, the renderings for the school show a largely red exterior and a metal roof Juliano said was designed to offer long-term durability.

Dean said the plans also took into account the effect of construction on the site itself.

“We want to disturb the site as little as possible,” Dean said.

What will be disturbed by the opening of the new school are rising enrollment numbers at many of Sandy Springs’ existing elementary schools.

According to district spokeswoman Susan Hale, Dunwoody Springs Charter Elementary School is the most overcrowded. The Georgia Department of Education estimates the school’s capacity at 850 students. Enrollment this year was 909 and is projected to be 938 for the 2007-2008 school year. The school also plans to have nine portable classrooms in the fall.

Spalding Drive Charter is also over its 575 student capacity. This year’s enrollment totaled 629 and the fall enrollment is estimated at 650. Spalding Drive likewise has plans for nine portable classrooms for the 2007-2008 school year.

Because of an addition that will open in the fall, High Point will be right at their capacity. Its capacity is now at 850 students and this year’s enrollment of 821 students is expected to increase to 859 in the fall. High Point also has the largest number of portable classrooms, with 10, of all of the elementary schools in the area.

Two schools, Heards Ferry and Woodland Charter, are under capacity according to the GADOE’s capacity calculations. Woodland, however, will have an addition for the coming school year and will still be about 78 students under capacity. The school has also planned for nine trailers. Heards Ferry only has two portable classrooms and will be approximately 88 students under capacity in the fall.

The student capacity for Lake Forrest will be 850, with expansion possibilities to 1,000.

Dean said the relief for the community’s elementary school will continue when Sandy Springs gets the second SPLOST-funded elementary school in addition to the large renovation at Ridgeview Middle School.

“We’re not stopping here,” Dean said. “We’re overcrowded in Sandy Springs and will be for a while.”

Dean said she was looking to get the second elementary school built on an entirely new site instead of adding on to existing school grounds in the area.