School District of Manatee County, private and speciality schools plan expansions and new schools.
Driving around East County, it’s not hard to find new apartment complexes and homes being built.
With those new homes will come children needing a place to attend school.
Between the School District of Manatee County, private schools, charter schools and specialty schools expanding or building new schools, families will have plenty of options to choose where to send their children in the coming years.
The state is expecting the School District of Manatee County to have 42,396 students enrolled in its traditional schools in 10 years compared to the just more than 41,000 the district currently has enrolled. The biggest change is projected to come at the elementary level.
Lakewood Ranch High School and B.D. Gullett Elementary School are the only East County schools currently over capacity. Both are hundreds of students over capacity.
Gilbert W. McNeal and Robert E. Willis elementary schools, Dr. Mona Jain Middle School and Braden River High School are at least 90% capacity. Willis Elementary had a new addition completed in the 2020-2021 school year while Mona Jain Middle opened in 2019.
Several schools have portables on their campuses, but Mike Pendley, an executive planner for the School District of Manatee County, said having portables on campus doesn’t mean all are used as a classroom. Sometimes portables are left on a campus until they are needed at another school. Other times they’re used for storage or custodial services.
As development continues in East County, the school district tracks every development within the county.
“We weigh in, we suggest changes to their plans, whether that be sidewalks and crosswalks, or sometimes we’ve said we need a school site,” Pendley said. “We also tell them whether or not we have capacity to accommodate that development as of the exact moment that report is written.”
To accommodate growth over the next five years, the district has several additions planned for schools in East County including Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high schools, Carlos E. Haile and R. Dan Nolan middle schools and Freedom and Tara elementary schools. A new K-8 school also will be built on Uihlein Road and Academic Avenue.
Pendley said the design process on the new K-8 school will start soon, but the school will have the capacity to accommodate growth over the next five years with possibly about 1,500 students.
“The thing about a five-year plan is there’s always adjustments to them in the outer years,” Pendley said. “The thing I would see here is timing might be adjusted on the projects. Not so much what’s actually being built.”
Pendley noticed a large amount of growth occurring on the east and west sides of Uihlein Road in Lakewood Ranch. When driving down Uihlein Road in December, Pendley said almost every piece of property was being developed.
“There’s not many rooftops, but it’s coming and that’s your big growth area,” he said. “That’s why we’re building that K-8 right out there because Gullett Elementary is over capacity and Mona Jain is going to be over capacity soon.”
Depending on whether the Manatee County Commission approves a new phase of development with about 4,500 dwelling units that is proposed to cross the Future Development Area Boundary, Pendley said the district could have to build a new elementary school.
“It would be at the very end of this five years when we would start designing it,” Pendley said. “I am working to acquire a site within that development. If they don’t get approval for their development, I don’t need it.”
Don Sauer, the director of the district’s Office of Student Demographics, Projects and Assignment, said new schools and expansions, such as Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy, which is the new K-12 charter school projected to open in the fall of 2022, will help alleviate some of the district’s traditional schools.
Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy, which will be located on White Eagle Boulevard, is projected to have an enrollment of 1,965 students when it’s fully constructed. The lower school is expected to open in fall 2022 with construction of the high school starting in 2023.
Two churches in the area also are planning to either expand or build new schools.
Risen Savior of Lakewood Ranch currently has 70 children in its pre-K program and plans to expand to kindergarten in 2022. The school is expected to enroll 250 students in pre-K and kindergarten.
By 2026, Risen Savior plans to have an elementary school, which is projected to open in 2024, and a middle school to open in 2026. If needed, Risen Savior will open a high school in 2030.
Woodland Community Church’s Dunn Prep is hoping to expand as well. In its first five years, the school has grown to have at least 200 children in kindergarten through sixth grade.
The church broke ground in August 2020 on a 12,000-square-foot expansion that includes a second level dedicated to classrooms for Dunn Prep.
The Out-of-Door Academy added to its middle school in 2020 by constructing a 13,500-square-foot building that increased the middle school’s capacity by 100 students.
Of the 544 students attending ODA’s upper school in Lakewood Ranch, 51% live in Lakewood Ranch.
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