The Mooresville Graded School District is planning to build two new schools in the near future, predicting a steady increase in enrollment as the housing market continues to prosper.
Under a recently updated strategic plan, the district is considering borrowing money once again to put up an elementary and middle school in the northern part of town, as well as expand two elementary schools. The move is meant to accommodate an anticipated increase in students in coming years.
“With all these kids, we need classrooms,” said Todd Black, the district’s director of operations. He cited mobile units near two elementary schools, one of them containing more than a dozen classrooms.
Approved by the district’s Board of Education in early February, the 10-year plan outlines only major construction projects that would cost more than $100,000.
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The top priority is the middle school, which would house as many as 900 students. It would cost about $33.5 million, Black said, citing estimates by the state Department of Public Instruction. The agency requires that school districts have in place such long-range plans.
The district has only one middle school, with a little less than 1,000 students. While it has not reached capacity, about 1,200 students, it could by the 2020-21 school year, according to projections.
The second priority, the elementary school, would cost about $27.5 million. It would house as many as 800 students in grades K-3, with the possibility of expanding to include more grades.
Both schools are planned for about 80 acres of what once was family-owned farmland near the intersection of N.C. 115 and Rinehardt Road. The district would also keep a fleet of school buses there.
The property was recently acquired by the district, after being approached by the former owner one or two years ago.
“Large tracts of land are becoming few and far between,” Black said.
As for the remaining priorities in the district’s plan, they involve expanding Park View and South elementary schools, including their so-called gymnatoriums. Each would cost about $5.5 million, Black said.
Exactly how the district would pay for the improvements remains undetermined, though officials are exploring the possibility of requesting another bond referendum in the next year or two, said Larry Wilson, chairman of the Board of Education.
While the district is among a small number in the state that levy their own tax, it is not considering raising the rate, given the considerable costs of the projects.
In November 2014, Iredell County voters passed a $131.5 million bond referendum to pay for improvements to public schools. The district’s share, roughly $40 million, has gone to an extensive renovation of Mooresville High that is scheduled to finish by the 2017-18 school year, a spokeswoman for the district said.
The proposed schools are years away from being built, with construction of the middle school not expected to begin until 2020-21 school year.
In the meantime, enrollment at the district is projected to increase considerably, by about 5 percent annually over at least the next three years, Black said. Although the growth rate has averaged only half that in recent years -- in the 2014-15 school year, enrollment rose by only 1.5 percent -- that is a conservative estimate, he added.
It is, of course, subject to change, as it is based largely on housing market conditions. Each month, the district receives a report from Mooresville that shows the number of residential subdivisions either undergoing construction or approved for it.
“We don’t know that that will materialize,” Black said of the enrollment projection.. The district revisits its 10-year plan every year, carrying out a more comprehensive update every five years.
As for whether the district might experience as much enrollment growth as it did in the early and mid-2000s, before the recession, that also remains to be seen. Then, it was rushing to accommodate streams of new students, building new schools as enrollment rose as much as 10 percent annually.
“We were building just as fast as we could build,” said Wilson, who has served on the board since 1997. The last school the district built, Rocky River Elementary, opened in 2009.
However much the district ends up growing, there is a sense of anticipation in the administration, with a tinge of apprehension, Black said.
“We know that if the kids come, we’re going to have to do a couple of things quickly,” he said.
Jake Flannick is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org