Germantown leaders get early look at new Forest Hill Elementary School

By Published: May 12, 2019 9:29 AM CT

Around lots of sweeping, dusting and drilling, Germantown city and school system leaders recently got a look at progress on the city’s new school, Forest Hill Elementary.

Construction should finish around the end of June, with furnishings, equipment and books to follow in July in time for the Aug. 12 start of the school year.

“There are few things more exciting in a city than a new school,” Alderwoman Mary Anne Gibson said during the May 8 tour. “It’s a place where kids are really going to be able to thrive.”

The school will be the fourth elementary school in Germantown Municipal School District. About 500 students in grades K-5 are expected for the inaugural year of operation.

The site on Forest Hill-Irene south of Poplar Pike also will house GMSD offices. The district now uses leased space in Carrefour at Kirby Woods shopping center. Offices will not move in until September to give the school's faculty, staff and students time to get situated first, Superintendent Jason Manuel said. 

The district paid about $30 million for the land and construction, Manuel said.

Stewart Smith, principal architect for A2H, participated in the school tour. The firm is the architect for the project.

Smith was a part of the team that did an addition and expansion at the city’s Riverdale Elementary School, which was completed in 2017. Smith said Riverdale was intended to set a precedent for future projects.

Riverdale’s big glass windows that front Miller Farms Road are similar to the many windows and natural light at Forest Hill Elementary.

Many classrooms, in fact, have big windows that look out over the property. At the end of the hallway on the second level, a pond and large tree are visible. The tree is on the historic registry, and it stood there before the Civil War, possibly before America was a nation, according to Josh Cathey, the district's chief of operations.

“I love the modern look and the combination of textures and finishes and big windows,” school board chair Rebecca Luter said of the new school. “I think it’s going to be beautiful.”

She said she is also excited to see the furniture, which the board chose with teachers being able to maneuver it easily in mind. Teachers can move the furnishings to suit how it best fits their class.

The building will be built with a secured entrance. Visitors  going to meet a principal or administrators will have to be admitted to the offices. Visitors going to classrooms will have to be admitted where the classrooms are.

Some hallways are “double-loaded corridors,” where classrooms exist on both sides of the hallway. It was one way to spend the money the district had for the project wisely, Manuel said, although it eliminated the natural light in some of the hallways. Instead, those areas will have light wells where light can shine in from above.

Multi-purpose classrooms have large windows and sinks that can be used for science experiments and art projects. Those classrooms have a glass wall next to the hallway so students walking by can see the educational experience going on inside the room. Manuel said school board member Betsy Landers pushed for a room of that type, and she was pleased with how it was coming together.

The cafeteria has a stage for theatrical productions. The gym’s basketball goals and scoreboard are up, and the gym's LED lights will adjust based on natural lighting. Cathey said gym windows are strategically placed according to where the sun rises and sets so the sun will not impact games.

The library has a big window and a reading nook built into the wall. The district asked Jennifer Mock, librarian for Farmington Elementary, for recommendations. She decided she liked what she saw and will be the school’s first librarian. The school board approved all new books for the library at its April meeting.

Some classroom walls are complete, with a wooden bar inside so the boards can be hung. Others still needed the wooden bar to be covered. The stairs are still coming together, and the district staff has been assured they will be ready well before students move in.

The district wants to be sensitive to neighbors, so a few design features are designed to minimize disruptions. For example, the district plans to allow more than 300 cars in the pickup and drop-off lane to minimize traffic on Forest Hill-Irene Road while road improvements are being finished near the school's drive.

About 14 acres of trees behind the property will provide a buffer to existing neighborhoods, and the district plans to use  landscaping and a wall scheduled for the west side of the property to help provide a campus feel.

As for the new district offices on the campus, school board member Linda Fisher expressed excitement about future board meetings. She said while the board now meets in schools and city hall, she looks forward to the board having a place of its own. Manuel said the board room and a few other rooms will be available for community use when GMSD is not using them.


Germantown Germantown Municipal School District Forest Hill Elementary Construction Education Development Jason Manuel Rebecca Luter Mary Anne Gibson Betsy Landers Linda Fisher
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a May 2018 graduate of the University of Memphis.  She has worked for several local publications and has covered Germantown since May 2018.

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