As Gainesville City Schools plans to welcome back 657 students to the school system in the spring from virtual learning, new and old students at Gainesville High will see progress when they return from winter break.
School officials broke ground during a private ceremony Thursday morning to officially kick off construction on two new buildings, a new kitchen, cafeteria and media center and a new classroom space.
Student body president and senior Jennifer Elias said being part of Gainesville High is like being part of a family, even with challenges like the pandemic or construction. She hopes new students coming in take advantage of new opportunities.
"The family is growing," she said. "There will be new people, there will be new material, there will be new buildings, so they're going to have a lot of opportunities to grow as one."
Fellow senior Donangelo Marshall had a similar sentiment, and said he'd come back as an alumni to make sure the next generation knows how good they have it.
"One part of me is mad that I don't get to use all the new stuff that's coming in to the school, cause it's amazing," Marshall said. "It's kind of overwhelming at one part, but another part, it's me being eager to see how the other students use everything that's going to be given to them."
"I'm gonna be pushing people, you know, make sure you are using all of this equipment because I would have loved to have it!" Marshall said he wants to see what the final look of the new buildings are when they're completed, as well.
The pandemic created chaos for local school districts and districts across the country, with many families choosing online, remote or virtual learning instead of face to face instruction, though many students continued to thrive in an in-person setting carefully monitored by school officials.
The pandemic did not stop the high school's need for newer, more spacious and updated buildings, with a population reaching 2,196 students this fall, according to Principal Jamie Green.
"Frankly, it's something we have to do," said Green. "These facilities are old and need to be replaced. The school has grown and will continue to grow."
Green said since the community had backed up the new construction with an ESPLOST vote, they weren't going to wait to get the job done.
Before the dirt was tossed and leveling began, a socially-distanced open house allowed Red Elephants to tour the landscape of the school prior to the start of construction on the CTAE building. That building is already under construction and is visible from John Morrow Parkway, Rainey Street and Century Place.