Apr. 17—Hammond Creek Middle School is an "incredible facility" that will "make Dalton Public Schools a better system," according to the Dalton Board of Education's chairman.
The new school is "part of a larger movement to educate our children" by solving challenges and unleashing opportunities, Matt Evans, a graduate of schools in the Dalton Public Schools system, added. Hammond Creek, along with a secondary grade reconfiguration that starts next school year, will improve the future of numerous students and ensure "the futures of our community and country are bright and promising."
Dalton Public Schools had an official ribbon cutting and open house recently for Hammond Creek, the first new school to open in the system in 15 years. Hammond Creek will begin hosting students in grades six and seven with the 2021-22 academic year, when the system will implement the grade reconfiguration. Students in grades eight and nine will attend Dalton Junior High School, which will be on the remodeled campus of the current Dalton Middle School, the same site that will also host the new magnet school for grades 10-12, The Dalton Academy. Dalton High School will also become a 10-12 school.
"This community supported this effort, and for that we say, 'Thank you very much,'" said Superintendent Tim Scott. Hammond Creek will change the lives of children for "generations to come, and we couldn't have done it without the Dalton community."
The current crop of local youth, as well as succeeding generations, will benefit from educational "excellence" at Hammond Creek, said Don Amonett, deputy superintendent. "Education is the greatest gift one generation can give to the next, (and) without the citizens of Dalton, this couldn't have happened."
The opening of this school is the culmination of more than a decade of meetings and work to resolve the challenge of having an unusually large middle and high school enrollment for this area, said Pat Holloway, chief of staff for Dalton Public Schools. In 2015, Dalton Middle School was the seventh largest middle school in the state in terms of student enrollment, while Dalton High School was significantly larger than any surrounding high schools.
In 2017, Rick Fromm, who was at that time chairman of the Dalton Board of Education, then-Superintendent Jim Hawkins and the rest of the school board members worked to form a consensus for a maximum spend of $50 million to address the overcrowding issue, but "next came the challenge of how to obtain the funding and financing," Holloway said. "Because Dalton Public Schools is a city school district, we cannot incur debt on our own and must go through the city of Dalton."
Hawkins "was probably the person who really got this moving the most at the very beginning," while Fromm was key in "convincing the community to do this," Amonett said. Fromm's "patience and skill were exactly what we needed."
"This community has always been about supporting growth, (and) the biggest thing was buy-in from the community," Fromm said. Construction of a new school, remodeling of another, and the grade reconfiguration are all part of "passing on a tradition" of learning excellence.
In August 2017, the City Council, led by then-Mayor Dennis Mock, approved putting a general obligation bond referendum on the city ballot for November, and Dalton Public Schools developed the "Room to Learn" campaign to inform voters about the need for a new school, with school system officials going to numerous locations and speaking to community groups, Holloway said. In November 2019, city residents approved the referendum with roughly 52% of the vote in favor.
The school, which will serve approximately 1,200 students, is roughly 199,525 square feet, and the project's total cost was about $51.75 million, which includes $3.3 million in state reimbursement, according to Dalton Public Schools.
It's "a two-story pinwheel design," which allows for maximum supervision capability from "the hub" on either floor, said Greg Smith, architect for J.W. Buckley Associates, Inc. The cafeteria is 6,000 square feet, and the gym is 5,000 square feet, and the school also has other fitness areas, such as a weightlifting room and a cardiovascular room.
The media center is "modern," including three small, glass-enclosed study rooms, as well as a conference room for collaboration, Smith said. The auditorium has a staging area with 10 more feet of vertical space than at Dalton High School, which will allow for more aerial acrobatics during shows.
Jack Houston, a future Hammond Creek student ambassador who led tours during the open house, is excited to attend the school next school year and believes his classmates will enjoy it.
"It's really big and open, and I like the architecture a lot," said Houston, a sixth-grader at Dalton Middle School. "We're really immersed" in the learning culture at Hammond Creek.
Hammond Creek will "provide experiences for students that go beyond their day-to-day," said Lauri Johnson, who will be Hammond Creek's principal. "There are several flexible spaces within the building which will allow for creative ways of teaching and learning."
The land behind the school, comprised of small creeks, wetlands and forest, belongs to Dalton Public Schools, too, Johnson said.
"We are looking forward to making trails back there and using it for our environmental studies curriculum."
There's "so much area" inside and around the school, "and they've really expanded a lot," Houston said. The spacious auditorium, for example, "will really enhance (performances)."
The theater "is unmatched in the region," said Johnson, currently Dalton Middle School's principal. "The attention to the arts facilities is not just a benefit to" students in grades six and seven, "but will serve the Dalton community for years to come."
Though students won't start attending Hammond Creek until 2021-22, the system has already used the school for various events, such as the virtual 2021 Georgia Thespian Conference in February and a job fair in March.
"This place makes me want to go back two grades," Ellis Stephens, an eighth-grader at Dalton Middle School, said with a chuckle while attending the virtual theater conference with classmates Feb. 27. "It's an amazing (building), and I'm happy for (the students who get to go here), but also a little jealous."
Courtenay Cholovich, Dalton Middle School's theater director, will be the theater arts teacher at Hammond Creek, and "I am overjoyed and overwhelmed by the new" facility, she said earlier this spring. "Having spent a great deal of time already with some of the technical capabilities, there is great potential there for this space, and I'm looking forward to putting it to full use and then some."