Harnett County is expected to keep growing, but with the predicted growth centered in the northwest, Harnett County school leaders heard they may need more schools to accommodate the newcomers.
The Operations Research and Education Laboratory, or ORED, at North Carolina State University presented its preliminary report on which schools will be affected the most by continued growth.
Thomas Dudley, the ORED project manager for Harnett County, said even plans for a new school in the Lafayette attendance area will not completely fix the challenges that come with growth.
The group estimates that approximately 3,000 new residential units will be built in Harnett County by 2025. Approximately two thirds of those units will be in the northwestern part of the county.
“Even with a new elementary school we are going to have a problem out there,” school board member Eddie Jaggers said.
The problem will spill over to both Harnett Central Middle and High schools. Elementary schools in the northwest part of the county feed the Harnett Central Schools. Harnett Central Middle School is already significantly above its capacity level, making it the most overpopulated school in the county.
According to ORED predictions, Harnett Central High School will be overcrowded within the next five years.
A freshman academy was added at Harnett Central High School in the last several years which allowed that school to better handle the growth.
The need for more schools in the county is not unexpected but after years of massive growth, Dudley said the problem is beginning to ease.
“You are still growing but just not quite as fast as we thought you would,” Dudley said.
School leaders are trying to determine the effects additional charter schools will make in the county. There is currently only one charter school, the Anderson Creek Academy which operates in the area.
That school has taken 250 students in kindergarten through grade five out of the traditional public school systems. Most of the students at the Anderson Creek Academy live in Harnett County.
The school is located in the heavily-populated Anderson Creek area, adjacent to the large Anderson Creek Club community.
Two other charter schools are in the planning stages. The Achievement Charter School will house students in kindergarten through high school in the northwest part of the county. The school could open as soon as 2021.
The Carolina Charter Academy, outside Angier in Wake County, is expected to open this August.
School leaders said that school will have minimal effects on Harnett County, with most of the students at the school living in Wake County.
Officials at ORED are watching all of the charter schools.
“We will continue to monitor the impact of the charter schools.” Dudley said.
The school board also heard from architects who are trying to win the bid to build a new Erwin Elementary School. That school will close for the final time this year, with demolition occurring as soon as the end of the summer.
“If we can get funding from county commissioners we might be able to start demolishing it by August,” board member Bill Morris said.
Once the old school is demolished, a new school will be built in its place.
Gentry Primary school will be outfitted this summer so that students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade in the Erwin area can attend school there next year.
The Gentry site will close for students when the new Erwin school is completed. The board has not decided what to do with the Gentry School building once the new Erwin school is finished.