By Alicia Couch Payne
I had the honor of getting an exclusive guided tour of the new Buford High School facilities located on Buford Highway in between Hamilton Mill Road and Thompson Mill Road. The campus features three buildings: academic building, performing arts building, and athletic building. The projected $80 million dollar campus is slated to open in Fall of 2019 and will have a 2,200 student capacity. The citizens of Buford voted to fund the project through General Obligation Bonds. Repayment of the bonds will come from Education SPLOST dollars.
The campus sits on 47 acres on Buford Highway in between Thompson Mill Road and Hamilton Mill Road. To accommodate the additional traffic, improvements were made to the intersection of Robert Bell Parkway and Buford Highway. The City of Buford and Gwinnett County funded a new four-lane road adjacent to the new high school. The approximately $1.5 million dollar SPLOST funded project will serve students, parents, and the traveling public. The new school will also have an entrance on Thompson Mill Road. Once again, the City of Buford and Gwinnett County will be teaming up “on a joint SPLOST project to widen Thompson Mill Road from 2 to 4-lanes past this entrance to the school to help relieve congestion and provide enhanced ingress and egress to the campus. This project is slated for a late 2019 start date,” states City Manager, Bryan Kerlin.
I knew the campus would be nice but I was not prepared for just how gorgeous and well thought out the new high school will be. Flanked by my tour guides, City Commissioner Chris Burge, City Manager Bryan Kerlin, and construction superintendents from Charles Black Construction, I set off to be wowed.
We started in the academic building and right away I was blown away by the impressive main staircase. That entrance set the tone for the duration of my tour. There’s slated to be 78 classrooms in the academic building. The media center and cafeteria are spacious with every amenity that students and staff could ever possibly want. Traffic jams in the hallways should be nonexistent with the extra wide hallways. For parents worried about security in the new school, no worries. The way the entrance to the building is set up funnels visitors into the offices flanking either side of the entrance to the main portion of the building instead of direct access to the building. Classrooms feature sidelight windows for added security and promote a more light and open feel to the classrooms.
Next, we went into the performing arts and theater building which will house the Fine Arts department. There are five classrooms in this building including a band and drama classroom. The classrooms have been designed with each of the fine arts in mind. For example, the band room is very spacious and has panels on the walls to improve the acoustics. The stage in the theater is larger than your average high school stage. The theater seats 958. Even before the theater is done and all the acoustic panels and sails have been installed, the acoustics were already amazing. There’s a lot to put on a production and those needs have been thought out too. There are spacious dressing rooms and plenty of space for staging behind the scenes.
The final building on my tour was the athletic building. The athletic building has 18 classrooms, two gyms, lockers, a multi-purpose room, and a weight room. It also has a coaches suite that has an office for the head coaches and additional space in the center of the suite where cubicles will go to give assistant coaches and support staff their office space. The multi-purpose room has a small kitchen that can handle team meals. The weight room is massive and will have a sound system capable of rattling windows to power the students through their workouts. The two gyms are identical and can seat each seat close to a thousand. They feature an elevated walk on the second level of the gym that connects each gym and provides a continuous loop. Five laps of the entire elevated walk/track equate to a mile. The lobby of the athletic building will house ticket sales and concessions.
The campus also has two artificial turf fields on the Hamilton Mill side of the property. The fields will host J.V. Football, Lacrosse, Soccer, and other events. When asked for more details, Kerlin responds, “The facility features seating for approximately 1,200 fans on each of the fields, a press box, concession stand, and storage building.”
Plans are in the works to build a new football stadium on property directly across Buford Highway from the new BHS. The City owns part of the necessary land already and has a contract to purchase the additional land needed. Kerlin said that the City is in the planning stages to determine the final layout for the property, but the property will have the stadium and a parking deck. There are 1,221 parking spaces at the new high school but the City anticipates the need for more spaces. The property is not large enough to have traditional parking so the City must build up in the form of a parking deck. An elevated walkway is being discussed to get pedestrians safely over the busy Buford Highway.
The school system knows that the new building will be intimidating to not only the incoming freshmen class but to all the classes. At the November School Board meeting, Interim Superintendent Joy Davis said that they are planning on having orientations for each class, as well as, opportunities for parents and the public to tour the facility closer to the Fall 2019 opening. Follow the North Gwinnett Voice for the latest news.