New numbers show twelve overflowing now, with four more to follow
While the economy slowed down growth in Union County, it didn’t stop students from pouring into local schools. The latest numbers from the school district’s facilities department shows that twelve schools are currently overcrowded, with four more set to overflow in the next four years.
“We are growing at the rate of a new school each year,” Facilities Director Don Hughes said. “At some point, we’ll have to look at redistributing students to some schools.”
The problem is one that affects schools across the county. Antioch Elementary in Indian Trail has a listed capacity of 804 students. This year, 859 kids attend class there. That number is expected to climb to 870 by next year and 888 by 2015. For Porter Ridge Middle School, the listed capacity is 1,200 students, but 1,325 currently attend classes there. That number is expected to climb to 1,363 by next year.
The other schools currently over capacity include Indian Trail Elementary, New Salem Elementary, New Town Elementary, Rea View Elementary, Unionville Elementary, Marvin Ridge Middle, Piedmont Middle, Weddington Middle and Porter Ridge High. Out of that list, Weddington Middle School has the largest number of expected students. For a school that holds a capacity of 1,000 students, Weddington currently has 1,081 attending classes. By 2016, that number is expected to climb to 1,116.
For the elementary schools, Hughes said the buildings can go over capacity to a maximum of 900 students. While Sandy Ridge Elementary holds 910 students this year, that number is expected to decline to 866 by the fall and no other schools are projected to go over that limit.
“What we’re seeing now is a bubble of sorts,” Hughes said, pointing to a large class of students in elementary schools. As that group grows older, it will cause some schools to temporarily exceed capacity. For example, Indian Trail Elementary is projected to drop back below capacity in 2014, while Piedmont Middle is expected to drop below capacity by 2017. Because the capacity problem appears to be temporary in parts of the county, Hughes said, the district will look at bringing in additional trailers to the affected campuses.
“If the numbers are going to stay constant or decrease, we’ll just use trailers,” Hughes said. “We don’t want to add on construction, just to add on.”
Currently Union County Public Schools has 284 mobile trailers, of which they currently use 190 for classroom instruction. The rest are either used for storage or sit unoccupied. A new trailer costs $60,000, while it costs the district $16,000 to move one from school to school.
For some of the older schools like Sun Valley High, Hughes said the district is already working on plans to expand them, but at least at Sun Valley, that expansion won’t be needed until 2017. The school has a capacity of 1,460 students and by 2018, projections show 1,562 students will be attending class there.
School board members said they hadn’t read through the latest enrollment numbers and projections yet, so they couldn’t comment on the overcrowding situation.
Currently, funding for a new school isn’t considered an option, Hughes said. Instead, the district hopes to be able to handle the extra students through the use of trailers.
If funding for a new school were to come available, Hughes said, the district would focus on the northeast side of Union, reviving a building project that was stalled when the recession hit.
“We’ve already done the site work for it,” Hughes said. “It’s pretty much shovel ready. There would be some small changes, adjustments to current building codes. We would also make it smaller than the original projections.”
However before school officials ask for permission to start construction, that area of the county needs to grow more, Hughes said.
The issue of overcrowding comes at a time when the county faces decisions on how to address its financial issues. Current projections show that if the county stays at status quo, with no additional staff, no raises or further cuts, Union will see a shortfall of more than $50 million over the next five years. At the same time, the school district faces a $9.9 million shortfall of its own, along with a list of needs for its facilities totaling more than $163 million. That includes $9.6 million for Central Academy of Technology and Arts, which will need $3.3 million for additions, $5.9 million for renovations and $285,000 for furnishings and equipment.