Some Lowcountry schools are busting at the seams this year as enrollment has climbed by nearly 3,000 students.
But despite the growing public school population, Dorchester District 2, Berkeley and Charleston all have construction and renovation programs underway that will add desks and alleviate overcrowding in growing areas.
Charleston County greeted 1,301 more students this year, while Berkeley added 930 students and Dorchester about 550. Public school enrollment is almost 108,000 children.
The growth in Charleston County, the second-largest district in the state behind Greenville County, was slightly less than anticipated, but the district still has its highest enrollment — 49,840 — since it started keeping such data 18 years ago. Enrollment has steadily risen in Charleston County since 2008 after a bit of a roller coaster in the early 2000s following the closing of the Navy base, officials said.
“Charleston is a great place to live and raise a family and we are thrilled that the number of students we serve continues to grow,” said Daniel Head, a spokesman for Charleston County School District.
The district added slightly more than 3,000 new seats this year through new facilities and additions to existing schools, said Jeff Borowy, the district’s deputy for Capital Programs.
The projects are part of a $470 million construction program funded by a 1 percent sales tax approved by voters in 2010. In November, voters approved extending the tax for another building phase from 2017 to 2022. That program is expected to collect $575 million, including more than $400 million in capital projects, with the rest for maintenance and technology upgrades for existing projects.
The student populations at Jennie Moore Elementary School for the Creative Arts and Laing Middle School of Science and Technology, both in brand-new buildings in Mount Pleasant, grew more than 40 percent. The schools exceeded district projections by 19 and 64 students, respectively.
In addition, after two years at the former Oakland Elementary School, St. Andrews Elementary students returned this year to Chadwick Drive in West Ashley, where a new facility was built. The school has roughly the same amount of students as it previously did.
Other Charleston County schools that experienced significant growth over the past year were James Simmons Elementary (25 percent), North Charleston High School (15 percent), Lambs Elementary (13 percent) and North Charleston Creative Arts Elementary (13 percent).
New buildings are set to open mid-year for North Charleston Creative Arts Elementary and Murray-LaSaine Elementary.
The school district expected 448 additional students this year but has welcomed 930, bringing enrollment to 32,330.
“Our biggest growth is in the Cane Bay area,” said Deputy Superintendent Deon Jackson. “It seems like that area is growing every day.”
The district redrew attendance lines this year for Cane Bay, Sangaree and College Park elementary schools and Sangaree Intermediate to alleviate overcrowding and create an attendance zone for Nexton Elementary, which opened in August.
“We relieved Cane Bay Elementary of somewhere around 300 students and still have over 800 students there,” Jackson said. The school, which has a capacity of 900 students, has pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. Fifth grade goes to Cane Bay Middle.
Nexton was predicted to open with 542 students but has an enrollment of 624 as of the most recent official count.
The district has been growing since 2006, and in recent years has seen increases similar to this year’s that are expected to continue steadily for the foreseeable future, Jackson said.
Nexton is the first school to be completed as part of the district’s $198 million building and renovation program approved by voters in 2012. Other planned new schools that are part of the program are: Philip Simmons Elementary and Middle School, expected to open in 2016, and Philip Simmons High School, planned for 2017, both off Clements Ferry Road; a new elementary school in the Tanner Plantation/Foster Creek area, expected to open in 2017; and Foxbank Elementary, set for 2018.
Ten days into the school year, the district is running slightly behind the 650 new students expected this year, said Superintendent Joe Pye. The district has 25,638 students.
“We have no doubt that we are going to beat our projections before long,” Pye said. “We have been growing by 600 to 650 students every year.”
Overcrowded schools such as Knightsville Elementary and William Reeves Elementary, with 1,465 and 1,221 students, respectively, are feeling a strain, Pye said.
“Knightsville is way too crowded, but we’ve made accommodations for that the best we can,” Pye said. Classes are held in every nook and cranny available, he said.
Help is on the way though. Voters in 2012 approved of a $179 million bond referendum, Dorchester District 2 expects to open three new elementary schools next year, each with a capacity of 1,000 students, providing some relief for Knightsville and other overcrowded schools.
Alston-Bailey Elementary on West 5th North Street, Dr. Eugene Sires Elementary on Miles-Jameson Road and Sand Hill Elementary off S.C. Highway 61.
While district officials feel they have the growth under control for now, with large industries like Volvo building in the Lowcountry, “another referendum is inevitable,” Pye said. “It’s just a matter of a couple of years and we’ll be built out again.”
Deanna Pan contributed to this report. Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.