More students means more schools being built
With the continued growth with the Lee County School District, a capital plan is under way to accommodate the additional students.
“We have a capital plan that plans for the expansion of our school capacity in locations we are needed,” Facility Planning and Development Executive Director Kathie Ebaugh said. “We just broke ground in the East Zone for a brand new high school, and we will be breaking ground in the East Zone for a middle school in the spring.”
Long Range Planner Dominic Gemelli said the new high school will accommodate about 2,000 students and the middle school 1,200 students.
“You will slowly be able to start leveling out the utilization of these schools. It will take time to migrate to the new schools,” he said, adding it will bring down the number of students at the higher enrolled schools, eliminating the use of portables.
In addition, the school district is in the design phase for an elementary and middle school to open in the South Zone in August 2023. The five-year plan also includes another elementary school in the East Zone.
The school district is currently using portables, or relocatables to accommodate the student population. Ebaugh said they have to use these classrooms, which can be moved from campus to campus, to address the growth needs on a specific campus, before a new campus can be built.
“We can’t get permission on a new campus until we can demonstrate what is called ‘need’ in our district,” she explained.
Ebaugh said this is different from building a fire house, park or road, which is built on a projected need in the district.
“If we want to build a new school. we need to get permission from the state,” she said, adding they must show that they are over capacity, or are in need of a new school.
Gemelli said the East Zone is the fastest growing area of the district.
“That is where we have more of our portables,” he said, adding that the West Zone does not have any construction plans, or portables.
“Those are our big five projects,” Gemelli said, adding that there are renovations and other things going on in the schools. “The additional capacity is the five schools.”
Gemelli said there were about 1,300 students more than the previous school year, which is measured on the 20th day of school.
“That is the enrollment we use the entire year. We have a static number that we use,” Ebaugh said.
School Board Member Mary Fischer said a high portion of the students are English Language Learners.
“Many of them do not speak English at all,” she said. “People are coming here for opportunity. A lot of our people are from the northern states coming down because of the affordable taxes.”
Fischer said they are the fastest growing district and they are feverishly working to keep up with the influx of population to meet the needs of the kids.
To meet the demands of the increasing student population, she said they are continuing to hire teachers and provide support for the needs of the English Language Learners and for students with special needs.
“We are providing a lot more training and staff development for our workers and constantly refining our departments and focusing on the issues as they come up,” Fischer said. “This is certainly a time of movement, high expectations, anticipation and a lot of work for our staff members.”