School Bond Referendum Anticipated In November 2022
JOHNSTON COUNTY – The Johnston County School Board received a 2022 Growth Needs Update this month. The report says 6 new schools are needed in the next five years, major expansion projects should be performed at six existing school campuses, along with numerous infrastructure and modernization improvements. The price tag: $720 million.
Brooks Moore, Chief of Facilities and Construction, presented the report, which included data and recommendations from NC State University’s Operations Research and Education Laboratory (OREd) that indicated six new schools are needed to keep up with growing enrollment.
OREd used current population trends and child birth statistics to estimate Johnston County Public Schools will grow, on average, 729 students per year through the 2031 – 2032 school year.
Based on the 2021-2022 Land Use Study, there are 223 unique developments in Johnston County and 202 are estimated to be completed by 2025. Those new subdivisions are predicted to increase enrollment by 9,900 students.
Currently, elementary schools have a combined capacity of 16,802 students. In 10 years, there will be 19,662 students enrolled based on the membership forecast.
Presently, there are 8,836 middle school students. That number will grow to 9,587 in 10 years. And in a decade, high school enrollment will increase from 11,313 this year to 13,961 in 2032.
Mr. Moore said 22 current schools in the county are already over capacity and 13 more are at capacity. The remaining 10 schools are within 10 percent of capacity. Countywide, 186 mobile units are currently in use.
The OREd report said four new elementary schools, one new middle school and one new high schools are needed in the next 5 years. In addition, major expansions are needed at four existing elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school.
New High School
The 2022 Growth Needs report said a new high school is needed in the Wilson’s Mills / Powhatan area with a capacity of 2,000 students. The projected price is $102 million, which would include land, construction, sewer service, and athletic fields. Ideally, construction would need to begin in 2023 with completion by 2025.
Moore said several high schools in the county, Cleveland, Corinth Holders, SSS, South Johnston, and Clayton are over capacity and using mobile classrooms. North Johnston High is nearing capacity this year.
New Elementary Schools
The report recommended building four new elementary schools. The proposed locations are in the Swift Creek area, Reedy Creek area, Clayton, and Archer Lodge. Each school would be 125,000 sq. ft. and could accommodate 970 students.
Mr. Moore estimated the price at $48 million each for the new Swift Creek and Clayton elementary schools. The Reedy Creek and Archer Lodge schools are projected to cost $49 million each.
The Report recommends construction of the Swift Creek-area school to start in 2023, the Clayton area school in 2024, and the Reedy Creek and Archer Lodge schools to be built beginning in 2025. Construction on each school will take about two years to complete.
The Swift Creek school is needed due to overcrowding at Polenta Elementary, West View Elementary an Cleveland Elementary. The new Clayton elementary school is necessary, the report stated, due to Cooper Academy, Wilson’s Mills Elementary, River Dell Elementary, and Corinth Holders Elementary all being over capacity this year.
The Reedy Creek area school is necessitated due to overcrowding at Benson Elementary, Four Oaks Elementary and Wilson’s Mills Elementary.
The proposed new Archer Lodge area elementary school would help with overcrowding at Corinth Holders Elementary, Wilson’s Mill’s Elementary and Cooper Academy.
New Middle School
The 2022 Growth Needs Report said $69 million was needed to construct a new middle school in the Thanksgiving area. The report recommended construction begin in 2024. The school would be completed sometime in 2026.
The new middle school is required due to other area middle schools exceeding capacity. For example, Archer Lodge Middle is 175 students overcapacity this year and 13 mobile classrooms are in use. Riverwood Middle is 47 students over capacity with 8 mobile units on the campus.
Mr. Moore said seven additions to existing school campuses are needed in the next five years.
The report recommended constructing an addition at Cleveland High School to add 24 classrooms at a cost of $17.5 million. The school is already 629 students over capacity.
A $17 million addition at Cooper Academy would add 23 classroom. Cooper is 152 students over capacity.
$11 million would pay for a 16 classroom addition at Cleveland Middle. The school is 82 students over capacity and has 13 mobile units.
At Benson Middle, a 12 classroom addition wing at a cost of $10 million is recommended. This would allow the fifth grade to move back to the elementary school. The school is 73 students over capacity.
Corinth Holders Elementary needs a 10 classroom wing built at a projected cost of $7 million. The school is seeing tremendous growth, Mr. Moore stated, and is 114 students over capacity this year.
The report says Princeton Elementary is in need of 12 new classrooms at a cost of $11 million.
Four Oaks Middle is 77 students over capacity this year and has 5 mobile units. The school needs 18 classrooms constructed at a price tag of $14 million.
In addition to new construction and renovation needs, the Growth Needs Report identified $68 million in HVAC upgrades at school campuses, $139 million in building needs including renovations, new windows and roofs. Another $45 million was earmarked for campus needs like tracks, parking lots, and new bleachers.
Mr. Moore said the average age of existing schools in Johnston County is 32 years-old. The report said Johnston County Public Schools needs $720 million to adequately accommodate the growth. Only a bond referendum or capital funds can accomplish the this, Moore stated.
The overall plan would add capacity for 9,679 students in school buildings, eliminate 173 mobile classrooms in use, improve campus safety for students and staff, and support recruitment and retention of classroom teachers.
The Johnston County Public School Board took no action on the report, but it is likely they will ask County Commissioners to place a school construction bond referendum before voters in November 2022.
Based on the current timeline, commissioners could receive the request at their May 2022 meeting. It is unlikely the school board will ask for the full $720 million, rather a portion of the funds in a 2022 Bond Referendum and another school construction bond at a later date.
We reached out to Johnston County Manager Rick Hester to find out how much Johnston County could borrow for a new school bond referendum without raising property taxes. Hester said he hopes to have a number soon, once a capital improvements study is completed.
“The County is in the process of updating its 7 year capital improvements financial plan. For fast-growing counties like Johnston, having a financial model and keeping it updated is important,” Mr. Hester said.