St. Marys School Closer to Opening; but If the Middle School Isn't Finished Soon, It May Not Open until August

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Byline: GORDON JACKSON

ST. MARYS -- As construction of the new St. Marys Middle School nears completion, school board members face a tough decision: Open the new facility or wait until the beginning of the next school year.

Jimmy Coffel, chairman of the Camden County Board of Education, said he can't speak for others, but he is leaning toward waiting until August.

"I wouldn't be interested in moving until the building is complete," Coffel said. "Without knowing [the completion date], it's hard to know what the decision would be."

If the new school, which is next door to the existing St. Marys Middle, isn't ready within three months, the move should be put on hold, he said.

The problem, Coffel said, is that nobody can set a completion date.

The 165,000-square-foot facility, which cost more than $18 million, can serve 1,350 students. It was originally scheduled for completion at the beginning of this school year.

But rainy weather slowed construction. And massive rebuilding in areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina has made it difficult to get building materials, said Will Hardin, the school district's assistant superintendent of finance and operations.

Hardin agrees with Coffel that there should be no hurry.

"We're not going to move into this building unless it's right," he said. "We've waited this long."

One certainty is that few, if anyone, will have fond memories of the old school, which is more than 30 years old.

"I don't feel the nostalgia," said Jo Beth Bird, the school's principal.

The building is so overcrowded that four trailers have been used as classrooms. Three teachers have to float between classrooms because of cramped conditions, Bird said.

The old school, which has about 1,000 students, will be torn down after the new one opens.

The new school will not only have more room, it will also have separate wings for each of the three grade levels, Hardin said. …