Growth brings concern, overcrowding for Johnston County Schools
Posted February 9, 2015
Smithfield, N.C. — If Johnston County continues to grow at its current pace, its schools will reach 100 percent capacity in five years.
The trend was part of a report discussed during a special meeting between the Johnston County Board of Commissioners and Johnston County Board of Education Monday night. The meeting updated county leaders on the area’s growth trends and their impact on schools.
Currently, 11 of Johnston County Schools’ 22 elementary schools are overcrowded, along with 7 out of 9 middle schools and 2 out of 11 high schools, according to a school land use study from N.C. State University.
“You could be looking at some of these schools hitting 120 percent capacity in some of these forecasts,” said Thomas Dudley with N.C. State's Operations Research and Education Laboratory.
The district’s student population has more than doubled in 20 years, from 15,665 in 1994 to 34,110 in 2014, according to the study, compiled by the laboratory and N.C. State’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education. The district built 13 new schools during that span – eight elementary, two middle and three high schools. About 468 new students have enrolled in the district each year since 2009, the study said.
“We are growing about a school a year in this county,” Johnston County Schools Superintendent Ed Croom said. "We know a lot of people move here because of schools, and we are proud of that."
A $64 million bond approved by voters in 2013 will provide funding for expanding River Dell Elementary, building a new North Johnston Middle and turning the school’s former building into an elementary school, and building a new middle school in the Cleveland area.
As for immediate needs, the study recommended relief for Archer Lodge Middle, a new middle school in the Powhatan area, expanding Cleveland and Corinth-Holders high schools, a new elementary school to provide relief for Polenta and West View elementary schools, and a new K-5 school in the area of N.C. Highway 42 and Buffalo Road.
Monday’s conversation mirrored ongoing talks in Wake County, where school leaders have switched schools from traditional to year-round calendars, and vice-versa, to accommodate growth.
Wake school board members have proposed a school growth issues task force to county commissioners that would raise awareness regarding the impact of the county’s growth on schools. The idea is currently under consideration by both governing bodies.
Proximity to Raleigh and Research Triangle Park has driven Johnston County’s growth, along with continued expansion of the area’s pharmaceutical industry and commercial development in areas including the Interstate 40 interchanges with N.C. Highway 42 and N.C. Highway 210.
Thousands of new homes have been built in the county since 2010, including a planned expansion of Summerwind Plantation in Garner that, if approved, would grow the subdivision to 413 homes.
Johnston County’s population grew 5.4 percent between 2010 and 2013, outpacing North Carolina’s population growth of 3.3 percent during that time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county is projected to grow 16.2 percent between 2010 and 2020, which would outpace the state’s anticipated population growth of 11 percent, according to the study.
County commissioners will take another look at the county's population capacity in March, including one area in particular.
“Those areas that border Wake County, because we have a lot of transit traffic going to work in Wake County,” county commissioner Chairman Tony Braswell said.