VOL. 131 | NO. 99 | Wednesday, May 18, 2016
New Schools Giving Memphis Suburbs More Autonomy
By Bill Dries
Some of the trees along East Shelby Drive on the 158 acres at Sycamore Road are in rows. It’s the unmistakable sign of a tree nursery. And before that it was considered a prime dove hunting location.
Collierville High School students were among those present last week at the groundbreaking for the new $93 million Collierville High that is to open in August 2017 – the biggest of several school construction projects starting this spring.
(Daily News/Bill Dries)
These days, long-time residents are taking a last look around the acreage before it becomes a construction site and then the site of the new $93 million Collierville High School.
Town leaders broke ground on the site with ceremonial shovels Friday, May 13, a couple of weeks ahead of the groundbreaking for the Lakeland Schools System’s new middle school.
For Collierville, the high school to open in August 2018 with room for 3,000 students is “the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken by the town of Collierville,” said Mark Hansen, board chairman of the Collierville Schools system. “It will expand dramatically our education options.”
The $20 million Lakeland Middle Preparatory School, to be built on Canada Road at Highway 70, is smaller but no less important to civic leaders. Their school system currently has only one school – Lakeland Elementary School.
Older school-age children in Lakeland attend schools in the neighboring Bartlett and Arlington school systems.
Lakeland Middle Prep also will open in August 2017.
Both Collierville and Lakeland local governments raised property taxes to pay debt from the bonds to build each school. Each starts construction at the end of the current school year.
Meanwhile, the Germantown Municipal Schools district pulled a $9.7 million building permit in April for an addition to its Riverdale K-8 school.
And Shelby County Schools officials open the new Westhaven Elementary School in Whitehaven this coming August, a new school building that will replace not only the old Westhaven, but nearby Fairley and Raineshaven elementary schools.
Collierville High’s size and cost are easily much larger than the other projects.
The 3,000-student capacity is larger than legacy Shelby County high schools built with a larger capacity than high schools in the legacy Memphis City Schools system.
Bolton High has approximately 1,500 students; Germantown High has more than 2,000; White Station High has 2,200; and Houston High School in Germantown has 1,900 students, many of them from Collierville under an agreement between the two school systems that will change with the opening of the new Collierville High.
The existing Collierville High has 2,300 students. That building becomes a much needed additional middle school with the construction of the new high school.
Town leaders decided to have one high school for the town as a way of building a civic identity.
“It is really a challenge to find enough ground that is under single ownership that we could actually buy and have enough acres to build the public facility we need,” Mayor Stan Joyner said.
Bob Cartwright’s family owned the land for several generations.
“This was a difficult thing – a lot of hard decisions were made to make this happen,” he told those who gathered in the muddy field at the groundbreaking. “God put eyes in the front of our head for a reason and that’s not to dwell in the past but look to the future, and these kids are our future.”
Collierville Schools superintendent John Aitken began talking with the school board about the need for new construction before the system’s first school year began in August 2014.
“The motto during the day was having control of our destiny,” Aitken said last week.
He and other town leaders watched closely as Lakeland’s plan for a bond issue to build a new high school was voted down in a referendum. Lakeland officials recalibrated their efforts and pushed for a less expensive middle school on the same land they had bought for the high school.
Aitken said the new Collierville High “services our needs for a long time. It gives us elementary and middle school room for several years.”
The town’s part of the project is widening East Shelby Drive at Sycamore.
“If it started last week it wouldn’t have been soon enough,” Joyner said. “Then we’ll have the challenge of putting a traffic signal at Shelby Drive and Byhalia Road where none exists, and put another traffic signal at Sycamore and Shelby Drive where none exists.”
Plans for the school have already heightened residential development in the area.
“It’s going to be the same good-quality development that you see that makes so many people proud to live in the town of Collierville today,” Joyner said. “It’s not going to be just throwing up houses. We’ll be very particular about the space we have and what we do that might allow unbridled growth. It’s going to be a challenge for us. We’re watching it.”