Wake County Schools will buy one site in Morrisville for a future elementary school and is eyeing another location for a second new elementary school.
But town officials think even two new schools won’t be enough to keep students from being bused out of town or sent to overcrowded campuses.
“I think we’re just not keeping up with the growth,” council member Steve Rao said. “And it’s nobody’s fault. It’s just a fact.”
Rao said he has received complaints and concerns from residents regarding school crowding. He encouraged residents to contact the county commissioners and school board, since they make the decisions about when and where to build new schools.
Joe Desormeaux, the assistant superintendent of facilities for the Wake County Public Schools System, told the Morrisville Town Council last month that WCPSS is planning to build six new schools a year from now until 2020 to keep up with growth.
That includes at least one elementary school in Morrisville, on O’Kelley Chapel Road west of the N.C. 55 and N.C. 540 intersection. There’s no timeline yet for when it might open.
The school district already owns several sites for future schools in western Wake County and is searching for six more. Desormeaux said his staff identified 86 possible elementary sites in Morrisville, three of which were feasible.
One site at Morrisville Carpenter Road near Town Hall Drive is too expensive, Desormeaux said.
But at $2.9 million, the 18 acres at the corner of O’Kelley and Yates Store roads was within the school district’s budget. Desormeaux said the district later could look into buying another 23 acres on Little Drive near the Breckenridge neighborhood for $2.9 million.
The O’Kelley Chapel Road site, in the western reaches of Morrisville, is a few feet away from the Chatham County border. WCPSS projections estimate it will be one of the most densely populated areas in Wake County – at least with school-aged residents – by 2020.
Morrisville, with a population of more than 20,000, has two elementary schools and no middle or high schools. Mayor Pro Tem Liz Johnson asked when that might change.
Desormeaux said new population numbers will be released this spring and could lead to the school district identifying the need for a Morrisville middle or high school. But for now, he said, there are no such plans.
Campuses for middle and high schools are bigger than elementary schools, he said. Morrisville can’t expand its borders and is lacking large developable properties. A high school needs 65 acres, while a middle school needs 30 and an elementary school needs 17.
Morrisville officially had 20,753 residents as of July 1, 2013, the most recent data available. But Stephanie Smith, the town’s public information officer, said town staff thinks the real population was actually about 1,000 more then and has continued to outpace expected growth.
Because local officials think the federal count is inaccurate, the town is paying more than $500,000 to conduct a special census this spring and summer. Having a higher population would mean more grant money for road projects, as well as more urgency for new schools.
Mayor Mark Stohlman said he hopes the school system takes notice and considers adding more schools.
“We’ve got a nice new census coming this summer,” Stohlman said. “So hopfully you’ll see that data.”
The town estimates there were 23,324 people living in Morrisville as of this January.
The school system is building in western Wake County to accommodate the growing popularion. Apex Friendship High School and Scotts Ridge Elementary School will open this fall in Apex. Several other elementary schools, and at least one middle school, also are planned for construction in the next few years.
The school board will open a new high school in Cary in the 2017-18 school year, called Green Level High School. It won’t house its own student body in its first year. Instead, the entire student population at Apex High will move there for a year while their school undergoes $8 million worth of renovations.
Once those students return to their home school in the 2018, Green Level High will open, drawing students from southwest Cary. The school will be at Roberts and Green Level Church roads.
The school district also has plans to build a new elementary school in 2016 near the Durham County border, east of Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Two possibilities being considered for the site include moving the year-round Brier Creek Elementary School there, or opening a new traditional calendar school that would serve the area.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran