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VOL. 37 | NO. 27 | Friday, July 05, 2013

Hemlock pullback puts schools on hold

By Tim Ghianni

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The Hemlock Semiconductor Plant in Clarksville.

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

One primary indicator of economic growth in any community is schools. And it’s no different in Clarksville and Montgomery County.

Because of a flat growth rate in the Clarksville-Montgomery area recently, one new elementary school – previously planned to be opened in the autumn of 2014 – has been put on hold for a year.

Population growth in the Clarksville area had been expected to increase with the much-anticipated opening of the Hemlock Semiconductor, a billion-dollar-plus facility expected to employ at least 500 permanent workers, and perhaps, bring additional high-tech jobs to the county.

Hemlock produces polycrystalline silicon for the manufacture of solar cells and semiconductor devices. Hemlock, which broke ground in the city in 2009, found an oversupply in polycrystalline, and with other factors, was forced to put plans on hold.

Fewer than 100 employees are working at the plant this summer.

“The thing about it is, we usually grow about 600 students a year,” says Elise Shelton, spokeswoman for Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools. “We haven’t opened a school every year, but one year we opened two.

“It depends on growth and funding. Since we are not opening a school in 2014, the County Commission is able to use the bonds we have to do infrastructure improvements in the county,” she says.

“We decided to put building Oakland Elementary School on hold until we see more growth.”

There is an elementary going on-line in the autumn, Pisgah Elementary, which will be the city-county system’s 23rd elementary.

There also are eight high schools (including one on the campus of Austin Peay State University) and seven middle schools serving about 32,000 students.

Of course, things could change.

For example if the market for polycrystalline silicon changes and the semiconductor plant is revived and growth resumes, “we will be scrambling for teachers in August,” she says. “It’s not ideal, but you want to be conservative in your approach.”