School District bracing for 10,000 additional students in next 20 years

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 8/4/21

CLAY COUNTY – The school district is anticipating more than 10,000 new student stations, or in other words available desks, from now until the 2041-42 school year.

These numbers were reported by …

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School District bracing for 10,000 additional students in next 20 years

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – The school district is anticipating more than 10,000 new student stations, or in other words available desks, from now until the 2041-42 school year.

These numbers were reported by Clay County School District director of safety and security James Fossa, who is the lead on student growth and school capacity. He’s been stressed about district school capacities and his anxiety continues to grow as the First Coast Expressway moves closer to completion.

“Clay County is one of the fastest-growing counties in Florida and it’s really fueled by the First Coast Expressway,” Fossa said. “The total number of new students [coming in]...is a big number and that’s scaring me a lot right now.”

Fossa said one of the main hiccups in student projection right now is the state makes its projections one way and the districts do theirs in another way. The state looks at the previous three years to estimate future growth. While that works at times, Fossa, said, it doesn’t give room to quick population explosions like what’s happening in Clay County. According to Sheriff Michelle Cook, there currently are 600 new homes being built in the county, and other communities already are in the planning stages.

The acceptable limit for a school’s capacity is 110%. Fossa would rather see the population capped at 100%, but it’s become a losing battle.

Despite Clay County’s seemingly insurmountable growth, Fossa has a school construction plan that stretches out to 2042. This list changes yearly, but it shows that the district is dedicated to tackling this problem head-on in proactive ways.

Elementary “R” is set to be built on County Road 315 soon followed by Elementary “A” in the Two Creeks area. Construction will start in the next four years. Elementary “B” is planned for the Lake Asbury area; Senior High “SRR” and K-8 “AA” are planned for the Saratoga Springs area; and, K-8 BB and K-8 CC are planned for Governors Park. These schools are planned to be constructed sometime between the 2026-27 school year and the 2031-32 school year.

Senior High “SSS” is planned for Governors Park and Elementary “C” is planned for Saratoga Springs sometime between the 2032-33 and 2041-42 school years. Because of the nature of the priority list, school capacities and the county’s growth, nothing has been finalized.

The following capacity projections are especially worrisome in the district for Fossa: Discovery Oaks Elementary, which will hit 120% by the 2026-27 school year; Plantation Oaks Elementary will hit 117% that year, along with Ridgeview Elementary at 118%. Tynes Elementary will hit 109% by the 2026-27 school year.

The Florida Department of Education has those schools at a FISH (Florida Inventory of School Houses) capacity of 862 students. The cafeteria number has a capacity at 1320. Cafeteria seating capacity is often used to determine capacity, and in this instance, the capacity is usually determined by the lowest number between the two.

Lake Asbury has a total of 12 housing developments confirmed for the area and that equates to a total of 6,500 potential homes, which equates to an estimated 1,400 new elementary students. Lake Asbury Elementary is expected to grow by more than 250 students by 2024 and will hit 110% capacity in the 2023-24 school year.

Elementary “R” is planned to open in the 2023-24 school year, though, which will help alleviate Lake Asbury’s stress. It will also alleviate capacity stress felt at Patterson Elementary, with 154 students expected to be rezoned from that school to Elementary “R.”

Fossa said Elementary “R”, which hasn’t been started, already is set to open with more than 700 students. He said although the school is only in the planning stage, he had to say “yes” to the county when they ask if the school district can handle new development.

Fossa said he can try and say “no,” but that there are plenty of workarounds for the county and developers to take.

Elsewhere, the Tynes Elementary area is feeling the capacity stress too, but Elementary “A”, which will follow “R,” will help alleviate the stress. Fossa said the district has 20 acres set aside for “A” in the Two Creeks area.

Tynes Elementary will surpass 110% this upcoming school year, but enrollment for “A” will require rezoning for some of these students. That solves the problem a few years, but not necessarily for the 2021-22 school year. Fossa said home construction in the Tynes Elementary area is expected to bring more than 180 new students by the 2024-25 school year.

Fossa said the Governors Park and Saratoga Springs areas are set to bring in even more students to Clay County. Saratoga Springs has 12,500 dwelling units planned for its future and that equates to 2,625 new elementary students. Governors Park has 6,294 dwelling units planned and that equates to 1,384 students.

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