Smithfield Herald

Schools confront building needs

Timberly Harrington is an assistant principal at Archer Lodge Middle School, which relies on 13 mobile classrooms to house a growing study body.
Timberly Harrington is an assistant principal at Archer Lodge Middle School, which relies on 13 mobile classrooms to house a growing study body. ndunn@newsobserver.com

As Johnston’s population continues to grow, county and school leaders are looking for ways to end classroom crowding.

At a joint meeting on Monday, county commissioners listened as school leaders painted a picture of a rapidly growing student population.

In 1994, Johnston County schools had 15,665 students; by 2014, that number had more than doubled to 34,110, said Mike Miller, program manager for the Operations Research and Education Laboratory, or OREd, a research and consulting group at N.C. State University.

That number will continue to grow as the county grows, Miller said.

Two years ago, Johnston voters agreed to borrow $57 million for nearly a dozen capital projects. Among them are middle schools in the North Johnston attendance district and in the Cleveland/McGee’s Crossroads area. Also, the money would expand River Dell Elementary School and convert the current North Johnston Middle School into an elementary school.

River Dell is one of Johnston’s most-crowded schools. Nearly 900 students attend the K-5 school, which was designed for 586 students.

“River Dell is one of those districts that is experiencing a lot of growth and a lot of residential development,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, nearly 650 students attend the current North Johnston Middle, which was built for 550 students. Building started last fall on a new North Johnston Middle School in Micro. That school and the converted elementary school should open in August.

Miller said the River Dell expansion would give that campus a little breathing room but not for long, with OREd projections putting the school over capacity not long after the expansion comes on line.

In all, OREd projects that more than half of all Johnston County schools will be over capacity in 10 years.

Some immediate needs have no funding, Miller said. Among them are relief for crowding at Archer Lodge Middle School and the need for a middle school in the Powhatan area near Clayton. Also, the county’s newest high schools, Cleveland and Corinth Holders, are over capacity, he noted.

School board member Peggy Smith said the crowding at the high schools scared her. She asked Superintendent Ed Croom about alternatives to adding mobile classrooms to those campuses.

Croom said the school system could add brick-and-mortar classrooms to those campuses or shift attendance lines to send some Cleveland and Corinth Holders students elsewhere.

Among those things that should be on the county’s radar, Miller said, are new elementary schools – one to provide relief for Polenta and West View in the Cleveland community and another to provide relief for River Dell, Corinth Holders and Riverwood.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Tony Braswell told school leaders not to count on property-tax increases to build schools. Instead, as the tax base grows, “we’ll take that money and invest in the schools,” he said.

Braswell said he found good and bad in the OREd presentation. “The good thing is that we are growing,” he said. “Fifty-six percent of our budget goes to education, and we will continue that trend. The bad is coming up with the resources to do it in a timely manner. In a perfect environment, we could build two or three more schools just like that, but we have to make sure we do it in a manner that is satisfactory.”

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