published Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Under-construction Saddle Ridge in Walker County a different kind of school


What: Walker County Schools town hall meeting

When: 6:30 p.m. April 4

Where: Advanced Education Center, 925 Osburn Road, Chickamauga, Ga.

ROCK SPRING, Ga. — Compare it to a strip mall, a hotel or a fancy office building. But all Walker County Superintendent Damon Raines wants you to know about the school being built off U.S. Highway 27 is that it will be a great place for kids to learn.

"We have a lot of prototype-looking buildings," he said. "And this one was definitely a little more unique. It's different."

The K-8 Saddle Ridge Elementary-Middle School, set to open in August, definitely isn't of cookie-cutter fashion. The $15 million school was built to help relieve overcrowding at other Walker County schools and to serve residents of new subdivisions.

Red brick frames Saddle Ridge's sweeping front windows, which are accented by tan brick. Inside, a large two-story rotunda with double staircases will offer an impressive welcome.

"I would say that it's vernacular to the area if you were to look at the historical buildings throughout LaFayette and North Georgia," architect Patrick Neuhoff said.

The imposing foyer opens up to wide hallways -- about three times larger than the halls in most schools -- that teachers can use for small groups and student collaboration.

A special room is set aside for a technology lab that eventually could foster activities such as robotics. And a health occupations lab will allow middle school students to connect with licensed practical nursing programs already in place at area high schools and colleges.

At Saddle Ridge, even the restrooms have a twist. Instead of large boys' and girls' rooms with urinals and stalls, each wing will come with several individual restrooms to allow for more privacy and handicap-accessible space.

By fall, Raines expects about 500 students from preschool to eighth grade to fill the new 115,000-square-foot school. Within a few years, the building could reach a capacity of nearly 700 students.

"It's just a unique connection with that K-8. We could have students from 4 years old all the way up to 16 and going into high school," the superintendent said.

Plans call eventually for placing a new high school across from the elementary-middle building.

To fill the school, officials will redraw attendance zones for other overcrowded buildings, mainly Cherokee Ridge Elementary and LaFayette Middle. Some students will be grandfathered-in at their current schools, according to principal discretion.

Those families, though, will have to provide their own transportation to school. Officials will host an April 4 town hall meeting to lay out the details of those plans.

Saddle Ridge is believed to be the first LEED-certified building in Walker County.

To receive the designation, certain job site work was required and HVAC, windows and lights had to meet environmental standards, said Chris Jones, the school district's director of facilities and operations. It hasn't made the construction work more difficult, but there are many record-keeping and paperwork requirements.

"It's definitely time-consuming," Jones said.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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