Cyber expansion could trigger student growth for North Augusta
Computer security operations coming to Augusta and Fort Gordon could create a “cyber tsunami,” and North Augusta officials have said that high-tech wave could bring unprecedented growth – and families with school-age children – to their city in the next few years.
In 2013, the Pentagon announced the U.S. Army Cyber Command would relocate from Fort Meade in Maryland to Fort Gordon in Augusta and would establish the Army Cyber Command and Cyber Center of Excellence by 2019.
The State of Georgia also is concentrating its cyber operations in Augusta.
The Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center will become the state’s centerpiece for cyber security research and development. The center’s first structure, the Hull McKnight Building, opened officially Tuesday on Reynolds Street, just across the Savannah River from North Augusta.
At a school district town hall meeting at North Augusta High in November, North Augusta City Administrator Todd Glover said as many as 4,000 families are expected to relocate from Fort Meade to Fort Gordon by 2020. That number does not include defense contractors that support the military’s cyber operations, he said.
“Can we predict how many of those folks will locate in North Augusta? No. But I have to believe when people are moving to our area and comparing quality of life that we’re going to win that battle as many times as we lose it,” Glover said.
Glover said companies from as far away as Florida and Tennessee already are inquiring about thousands of acres of undeveloped land near Exit 5 on I-20, which already has experienced significant business growth.
“They’re seeing that growth, so we’re going to have to prepare for growth,” he said.
Glover said the area has the “opportunity to become the cyber security capital of the world.”
“The growth that is coming is truly a cyber tsunami,” he said. “I believe personally that cyber will be as big or bigger for us than the Savannah River Site was to Aiken when it was built in the 1950s.”
While Aiken County Public Schools officials are experiencing and anticipating student growth in western Aiken County, they have not factored any possible growth from the cyber operations into the district’s plans for future enrollment – yet. They will wait until those plans are a reality.
“Right now, it’s hoping and not fact,” Dr. Jerome McKibben of Cropper GIS told members of the Aiken County School Board in October.
The Aiken County Public School District contracted with Cropper GIS last summer to conduct a demographic study of the county and current population trends. School officials estimated no comprehensive study had been done in more than 30 years.
“Once it’s fact, you can add them into your forecast. Don’t put those numbers into your planning until it’s up and running,” McKibben said.
McKibben cited South Carolina school districts that had planned for anticipated growth from the construction of two energy-generating nuclear reactors in Fairfield County, north of Columbia, at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. The project was abandoned late last July.
The school district is addressing current overcrowding at Hammond Hill Elementary and Belvedere Elementary with additional classrooms and enhanced security. Revenue from the school bond referendum voters approved May 1 will fund the projects.
The district also will build a new elementary and a new middle school on donated land between North Augusta and Graniteville.
Between 1,500 and 2,000 new homes are planned for Highland Springs, a proposed development off Exit 5 on I-20 between Graniteville and North Augusta.