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Schools struggle to handle growth
Jun 13, 2006 12:00 am
June 6, 2006 – Stunned Wilson County School System officials said the entire system is experiencing growth pains which stem from the county's residential boom. Another 10 classrooms – five portables – will be added systemwide this fall.
Top level school officials said they are struggling with record growth across the board with nearly a 4-percent rise in enrollment from last school year. Officials predict another 450 students to join the rolls in the fall, spiking student population to more than 14,000.
"This is the largest percentage rise in students I've seen since I started working here in 1993," Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall said last week. "We knew the system would grow, but I think we are all surprised at how quickly. It's due to all the retail growth and commercial development. Homes follow retail. We are struggling to keep up."
Recently tallied kindergarten preregistration numbers mirror the trend. Hall said a record number of kindergartners have registered this year.
With its second school year just completed, Mt. Juliet Elementary is bursting at the seams, and students will spill out the facility into six portable classrooms. Three portables – which accommodate two classrooms each – will dot the campus.
Mt. Juliet Elementary opened in October 2004 as a replacement for the decrepit, decades-old original school. The replacement facility was built for 800 pupils, a maximum already surpassed.
And while school officials said they were prepared for increased numbers in the area, they admit they are stunned at how fast classrooms filled. Hall stated it is not recommended to build an elementary school to house more than 800 students.
"Mt. Juliet Elementary was built for 800 students," he said. "Last year, there were 870 students enrolled there, and we won't be surprised if we see over 900 students there in the fall."
Director of Schools Dr. Jim Duncan said the new school attracts families to the area.
"Yes, it concerns me," he said. "We knew we'd be under the gun for a couple of years until the new facility came on line."
Other options in lieu of portables could have been double school sessions and year-round operation. Rezoning was out of the question because no free space is available at other schools.
Duncan said portables are a temporary stop-gap to house students while the system waits for the huge transition when the new Mt. Juliet High School opens in fall 2008.
That current facility will be renovated into a middle school and the old middle school will serve as an elementary facility. Hall said the new elementary is scheduled to open fall 2008. Coupled with a rezone, the new building will help relieve overcrowding at Mt. Juliet Elementary School.
Duncan said the system's aggressive building plan will address the needs brought on by growth. He explained the system and county face many challenges in the future. A trio of projects planned to accommodate growth are ongoing.
The first of the year saw county commissioners approve $37.2 million to build the new Mt. Juliet High, $10.2 million for a new Wilson Central addition and $6.5 million to build a new pre-kindergarten through third-grade Watertown Elementary facility on the existing campus. All are under construction now.
Next week, the system will present the County Commission with a plan to add 12 permanent classrooms at Rutland Elementary School with plans to begin construction in January. Also, plans are in the works to add seven classrooms and a new gym to Stoner Creek in West Wilson County. Hall said a search is ongoing for land to build a new Lebanon High School in five years.
To further relieve overcrowding in West Wilson, system officials will exercise an option on 18 acres in the Providence area near Rutland Elementary School, but it can't be done until November 2007, Hall said.
"From what I've heard, Providence Place is growing faster than expected, and we want to be prepared," Hall said.
Duncan and Hall agreed the system has a Herculean task just to keep up with growth.
"We've got a big task in front of us," Hall said. "Bigger than we originally thought. It's time for all of us to step up to the plate to meet the needs of the county."
Mt. Juliet Managing Editor Laurie Everett can be reached at 754-6397 or by e-mail at email@example.com.