Fox Creek looks to expand, add middle school

Fox Creek High School is ever evolving, but the biggest changes are yet to come.

The much talked about Phase II additions may still be a few years off, but the biggest shift of all could be the school's expansion to include a middle school.

Fox Creek is estimating its costs of construction at $10.4 million. The biggest chunk of that is the addition of 10 classrooms, a gymnasium, art room, band and chorus room, cafeteria, stage and converting the existing cafeteria to two computer labs. The school estimates that those changes will cost roughly $5.5 million.

Fox Creek also plans to add an additional 12 classrooms, build out the existing weight room, light the baseball, softball and soccer fields, expand the parking lot and more. This is all still very fluid, principal Dr. Tim Murph said, but it is the continuation of a foundation laid by the school's Phase I.

"I don't think it's a matter of if, it's a matter of when," Murph said of the expansion to grades six through 12. "It's probable, and I just think that it's five years from now. There are some logistics there that we have to figure out. Do we want to expand to grades six to eight right away in the first year? I think we'll get a lot of interest in the sixth grade, but students may not want to transfer after they are established in a school. So we may start out with just sixth graders, then sixth and seventh, then all three. We could just decide to go ahead with them all and see what we get."

Murph notes that Phase II has changed over the years. Originally Phase I was going to represent the academic portion of the school, and Phase II would solidify the athletic portion. The school will be using Johnson, Laschober and Associates P.C. out of Augusta for its architecture. Murph noted that he is also excited to use a local company for the project.

Unexpected growth has forced the school to change its plans.

Fox Creek finds that the current cafeteria is not large enough to house its student body, and as such it became a far more important component to Phase II. Fox Creek currently has just three computer labs, two of which are used all day, Murph said. The fourth and fifth labs will ease the burden, as technology is a focal point of Fox Creek's curriculum.

The expansion to include a middle school, however, is the biggest change.

"The reason behind that is so that we can control the education our students receive from grades 6-12," Murph said. "One of the issues that Fox Creek currently has is that students come into ninth grade from Meriweather Middle, J-E-T Middle, North Augusta Middle and Paul Knox Middle. Each of these schools has educational programs, and sometimes these programs don't mesh with one another. As a result kids come to high school at different levels and they've also been exposed to different programs. It makes things more difficult for us in that transition in ninth grade."

Murph points to different schools having different classes counting for high school credit as a major hurdle. This puts students at various stages of development and there is a disconnect between Fox Creek and the middle schools.

He also states that the addition of a middle school will bring in more jobs as well.

"I think it'll bring in a dozen jobs. Initially, we'll need at least eight to 10 teachers," Murph said. "Then, of course, you'd need a guidance counselor, assistant principal and a principal, if you will, of the middle school. It really depends on the growth of the middle school and the interest in it. Will Fox Creek be as successful at the middle school level as it is at the high school level? One of the differences between our school and traditional schools is that we have to be the best in order for people to transition to come here."

Besides the transition, the expansion foreseen in Phase II will allow other clubs and organizations at the high school level to expand further.

"We appreciate the use of Sweetwater Baptist Church, but it creates some logistical problems because of traveling there, and not all of our students drive," Murph said. "But it would also help us non-athletically. When we need to have an assembly, we currently don't have any room large enough to hold more than 150 students. So if we want to hold one for our entire student body, we have to hold it in thirds. With the new gym, we are projecting over 1,200 seating capacity."

Because of outside agencies, Fox Creek does not currently have a hard timetable.

"We have initial drawings from the architect, that our Fox Creek team is very pleased with," Murph said. "We have submitted the initial paperwork with the United States Department of Agriculture with our intent to apply for a $10.4 million loan. We have had meetings with the agriculture firms and with the USDA about paperwork and timetables. We are thinking it will take us between one and one-and-a-half years for our financing. We hope to begin construction between one and one-and-a-half years. So we are looking at a two- to three-year process, contingent upon the speed of other agencies."

With such radical changes on the horizon, Murph has noted that the community seems very receptive.

"Our entire community is on board, our school board is on board and so are our teachers and administration," he said. "Everyone I've talked to believes that Phase II will take us to the next level of being great. And the idea of the middle school has been, surprisingly to me, met with a lot of great response. ... I believe when it is completed it will revolutionize education in these communities. We have been extremely successful with limited facilities, and with complete facilities I really believe we will go from good to great. I'm excited about, and I think our employees are really excited about it."