Education

Tour of new Spencer High School shows what $56 million project has produced

See highlights from a tour of the new Spencer High School on Fort Benning Road

Senior students lead you on a tour of their new $5.5 million state-of-the-art Spencer High School on Fort Benning Road
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Senior students lead you on a tour of their new $5.5 million state-of-the-art Spencer High School on Fort Benning Road

It’s less than 3 miles from the previous site, but the new location seems like a world away.

So when folks who are familiar with the former Spencer High School on Victory Drive — and its sinking foundation, cracked floors and leaning walls — see the new facility on Fort Benning Road for the first time, no wonder they gush with amazement.

Spencer rising senior Kevonta Fanning called his new school “a blessing.” When he first saw it, he said, his reaction was “Wow! … At the old Spencer, we were bunched up and in a little area. But now, everybody can be spaced out and have more area to work.”

One of his classmates, Devon Reid, called it “a privilege that we have this opportunity to learn in this facility and just get the chance to do great things.”

Devon and Kevonta were among the students who led tours of the new facility Friday, five days before the Muscogee County School District’s 2018-19 academic year begins.

The former Spencer wasn’t a good atmosphere, Devon said, where computers were slow and furniture was broken.

“This is a better environment,” he said. “You got more light. They say you learn better in light.”

At $56 million, the new Spencer is the most expensive of 24 MCSD projects totaling $192,185,000 and funded by the 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that Columbus voters renewed in 2015 for another five years.

Spencer principal Johnny Freeman, starting his fifth year as Spencer’s principal, estimated the new building is at least double the size of its predecessor.

“I think I need a scooter to get around,” he said. “It’s huge.”

When teachers saw their classrooms for the first time, Freeman said, “we’ve had everything from dancing to crying, just thinking about some of the opportunities that they will have on a day-to-day basis. . . . I think it’s just going to not only rejuvenate the spirit of the teachers but also the entire community. The building is just unbelievable, and to see so many alumni and our community leaders come in here, they’re just blown away.”

Including economics teacher Kenneth Hodge, starting his third year at Spencer. After teaching in a windowless classroom with barely any space to walk around 32 desks, he has a bright and airy environment in which to work.

“This is excellent,” he said. “New. Clean. Large. … Classrooms like this are what teachers dream about.”

And for the students?

“It will engage them,” Hodge said. “They will take more ownership of their education because they’ll see the district went to the trouble of providing them a new building.”

The last new high school building MCSD constructed in south Columbus is the $45 million replacement for Carver, which opened in 2012 and was funded by the SPLOST that voters renewed in 2009. The Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts, for middle and high school students, is a $36 million midtown facility that opened in 2017 and was funded by the past three SPLOSTs.

The new Spencer, plus the district’s spot rezoning of some attendance areas, have combined to increase Spencer’s enrollment from approximately 750 to 930 students. And the number of applicants for Spencer’s computer science and electronic game design magnet program nearly doubled from an estimated 120 to more than 200, Freeman said. Spencer’s enrollment capacity now is 1,100, compared to an estimated 900 previously, he said.

Freeman acknowledged that some students are “a little nervous and apprehensive because they don’t know the layout of the building yet. So we’re going to spend some time the first couple of days just making sure that everybody’s acclimated and understands where their classes are and how to navigate the building.”

Spencer has gone from a one-floor building to three floors, divided like this:

First floor: administrative offices, auditorium, gym, library, cafeteria, juice bar and spirit store (run by marketing students), career center and rooms for automotive technology, cosmetology, marketing, art, band/orchestra, chorus and dance.

Second floor: classrooms for English language arts, math and social studies.

Third floor: classrooms for science and computer labs.

At the former Spencer, students and coaches in various sports often had to share the same space. Now, each sport has its own space, including an artificial turf field for football and soccer (for varsity practice and junior varsity games), a smaller grass field, track, baseball and softball fields, and storage, locker, wrestling and weight rooms.

“I don’t know of anyone in this region that has that type of facility,” Freeman said.

So this is a fresh start, Freeman said, for this proud school, named after beloved educator William Henry Spencer and now occupying its fourth site in 88 years.

“The old building kind of deteriorated a little bit,” he said. “We had some structural issues.”

Now, thanks to the SPLOST, Spencer has a facility that “addresses all of our needs,” Freeman said. “Not only the learning needs but the safety needs.”

Established for blacks during segregation, Spencer became the high school for kids from Army families stationed at Fort Benning when the school moved from Shepherd Drive to Victory Drive in the 1970s after integration.

The new Spencer at 1000 Fort Benning Road also is expected to boost development in the area. It was constructed on a 37-acre triangular expanse of land in south Columbus, between the Church’s Chicken on Fort Benning Road and the Family Dollar on Cusseta Road.

Hecht Burdeshaw of Columbus and 2WR of Columbus are the project’s architects, and Freeman & Associates of Columbus and Ra-Lin & Associates of Carrollton are the construction managers at risk.

“The technology is some of the best in the state,” Freeman said. “They spared no expenses.”

Every classroom has a 55-inch LCD touch-screen smartboard, and every student will be issued a netbook computer device — part of the $34 million in technology upgrades, also funded by the 2015 SPLOST, and coming to all MCSD schools eventually.

“That will give students an opportunity to have access to technology at home that they may not have had in the past,” Freeman said.

Contractors still are working on Spencer’s punch-list items, Freeman said, “but, for the most part, we are ready to go.”

Freeman praised the work everyone did to complete this project.

“Our team has just done a tremendous job of coming together and coalescing and making this a reality,” he said.

Week of activities

Spencer alumni will conduct a week of reunion activities, for all graduation class members who register, leading up to the new facility’s ribbon-cutting ceremony:

Aug. 19: Gospel concert, Spencer auditorium, 6-8 p.m.; reserved seating for registered reunion participants.

Aug. 20: Begin to wear Spencer’s school colors, green and gold, all week.

Aug. 21: Day of service at Spencer and voter registration drive.

Aug. 22: Day of service at Spencer. Alumni share with students their love of the school.

Aug. 23: Pick up reunion packets, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the Synovus Meeting Room at the Columbus Public Library; fish fry, 3-7 p.m., Carver Park.

Aug. 24: Golf tournament, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Lakewood Golf Course; pick up reunion packets, noon to 5 p.m., in the AKA Room at Mildred L. Terry Public Library; Heritage Bowl, Spencer vs. Carver football game, 6:30 p.m., A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium.

Aug. 25: Ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of Spencer, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; meet and greet, 6 p.m., Columbus Convention & Trade Center; dinner and dance, 7 p.m., trade center.

Aug. 26: Inspirational service, 10 a.m., trade center, followed by lunch.

Information: Miriam Lee Jackson, 706-587-3236; Marion Marshall Jones, 706-405-9333.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE

Week of activities

Spencer alumni will conduct a week of reunion activities, for all graduation class members who register, leading up to the new facility’s ribbon-cutting ceremony:

Aug. 19: Gospel concert, Spencer auditorium, 6-8 p.m.; reserved seating for registered reunion participants.

Aug. 20: Begin to wear Spencer’s school colors, green and gold, all week.

Aug. 21: Day of service at Spencer and voter registration drive.

Aug. 22: Day of service at Spencer. Alumni share with students their love of the school.

Aug. 23: Pick up reunion packets, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the Synovus Meeting Room at the Columbus Public Library; fish fry, 3-7 p.m., Carver Park.

Aug. 24: Golf tournament, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Lakewood Golf Course; pick up reunion packets, noon to 5 p.m., in the AKA Room at Mildred L. Terry Public Library; Heritage Bowl, Spencer vs. Carver football game, 6:30 p.m., A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium.

Aug. 25: Ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of Spencer, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; meet and greet, 6 p.m., Columbus Convention & Trade Center; dinner and dance, 7 p.m., trade center.

Aug. 26: Inspirational service, 10 a.m., trade center, followed by lunch.

Information: Miriam Lee Jackson, 706-587-3236; Marion Marshall Jones, 706-405-9333.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE
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