By Christopher Smith
The only middle school within the Dalton public school system, where more than 1,600 students crammed halls and walked shoulder-to-shoulder during class change last school year, needs to be bigger, school officials said.
That’s why school board members last week gave the OK for Parrish Construction Group from Perry to expand Dalton Middle School beginning in October.
“The need for this project is pretty obvious,” school board Chairman Danny Crutchfield said. “That school is at capacity.”
Crutchfield and board members Mark Orr and Steve Williams voted to approve Parrish for the work. Board members Richard Fromm and Tulley Johnson were absent from the meeting.
The need that school board members see at Dalton Middle is best represented in a growing Hispanic population, which made up more than half of the 7,476 students in city schools on the final day of school.
In 2003, there were 3,310 Hispanic students enrolled; at the last day of school this year there were more than 5,000. At the middle school, the Hispanic population has nearly doubled in a decade — from 660 students in 2003 to 1,300 students at last count in March.
“We felt like, based on birth rates, we are entering a peak period (with that population),” Orr said. “That should drop off after a surge. We didn’t see a reason to build a new middle school that would cost us $40 million when we don’t have that money.
“Our middle school is large, but it functions well. There’s apprehension by parents who send their kids there, I know. It’s a big school. But I believe (that perception) goes away when they see how it functions well even though it is really the size of three schools.”
The size is why the project went to a company in the south half of the state, Orr and Crutchfield said.
“Most of our bigger projects are out of town,” Orr said.
Parrish trumped bids from Balfour Beatty Construction in Dallas, Texas, EMJ Construction in Chattanooga, RK Redding Construction in Bremen, Evergreen Construction in Atlanta and RA-LIN and Associates in Carrollton.
No local companies were reviewed by a recommendation committee made up of school officials and a representative from J.W. Buckley and Associates, an architectural firm that has designed projects for the city school system for several years.
Crutchfield said the lack of local bids suggested “it might have been a bigger project than some (local groups) wanted or could do.”
“We do want to stay local when we can,” Crutchfield said. “But, while we always want to go local, we have to get the best product for the taxpayer and students. Parrish came in with good references that said they do what they say they’re going to do.”
Each company was ranked by school officials on their experience with big school projects, ties to the Dalton community, cost, project manager experience and planning and safety, among other things. Parrish received a score of 90 out of a 100. RA-LIN was the runner-up with a score of 87.
“They’re good,” Crutchfield said of Parrish. “They also usually come under budget as part of the plan.”
The plan is to create a “flexible space” that will offer more capacity and more classrooms with movable walls.
“But it’s something we can convert into a black box theater for theater productions and concerts and things like that,” Crutchfield said. “We feel good about the recommendation.”
School spokeswoman Pat Holloway said the school system will have a final project drafted — including the cost of the project and how many additional classrooms will be included — in August. School board members are expected to approve the final product at their September meeting.