By Gerhard Schneibel
Ridgeview Charter School has been both a middle school and a massive construction site this school year.
The four-phase renovation and expansion of the school on Trimble Road in Sandy Springs should be complete in July.
The additions to the school are designed to raise its capacity from about 600 to 1,200 students. Combined with a revision to the attendance policy in the charter, the expansion will open Ridgeview to families in Buckhead, Brookhaven and elsewhere in the metro area.
“With each phase of the renovation, they take it down to the concrete,” Principal Karen Cox said.
“There’s no wiring, no pipes; there’s just the concrete frame. This building was built well in 1966, and so that concrete frame is still very viable,” she said.
The two wings of the school are being renovated separately, with students from the affected part of the building temporarily moving into portable classrooms. In the summer, the middle part of the building, home to the administrative offices, will be gutted and renovated.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge from the start, but it’s also been an adventure,” Cox said. “It’s been an exercise and a test of every skill I have and some I didn’t know I had. But we’ll move back into a brand-new school Aug. 3.”
Birmingham, Ala.-based Doster Construction has wasted no time in moving forward with the project, Cox said. During the last day of school before winter break, “at 4 p.m. that afternoon, Doster was in there tearing out the ceiling.”
Teaching middle-schoolers at an active construction site creates a safety concern, but the affected areas have been sealed off. An off-duty Fulton County sheriff’s deputy is stationed at the school.
Cox comes and goes in the construction areas at will and chats with many of the workers on a regular basis.
“I’ve got to know who’s in my building,” she said. “That’s part of keeping my kids safe.”
William Cloud, owner of Atlanta-based Cloud and Cloud, which is pouring concrete at the site, said Cox is patient with the workers.
“Most people get all upset, but she doesn’t do that. I appreciate that. That makes us work all the harder,” he said.
To accommodate the construction, the school reconfigured traffic patterns during drop-off and pickup times. Still, parents have been cooperative because they understand soon the students will “have the building they deserve,” Cox said.
“This is such a wonderful school community, and ultimately they know this is going to be good for their kids and the kids down the road,” she said.
Stacy O’Neill, a PTA co-president, has a daughter in the seventh grade at Ridgeview and will have a son in the sixth grade next year.
Cox is “just a superdynamo of a principal and a person,” O’Neill said. “It’s kind of unusual for a school to be open while they’re doing reconstruction. Karen just has been a real gem about keeping the feathers from getting ruffled, and she just has a great sense of humor.”
“We’re just really excited, mainly about what the future is going to look like at the school. I think it helps keep us going,” she said. “You know, I don’t think a junior principal would be the type of principal who could take this on.”
David Davis, whose daughter is a seventh-grader at Ridgeview, said he “obviously had concerns and fears,” but Cox has done “a brilliant job of balancing” education with the construction.
Three hundred students recently performed in the school’s winter concert, he said. “Over 50 percent of the school is involved in the performing arts. … They’ve just been fortunate to have … great, incredible teachers, and Karen just provides incredible support.”