New middle school in Lakewood Ranch will be built adjacent to Gullett Elementary.
In response to the population boom in East County, the Manatee County School District is adding a new middle school adjacent to B.D. Gullett Elementary and building new wings at Lakewood Ranch High School and Gullett, Robert Willis and Gene Witt elementary schools.
Dr. Diana Greene, the school district superintendent, said the new construction will increase the capacity at Lakewood Ranch High and Witt Elementary by 200 students and the capacity at Gullett and Willis elementary schools by 100 students. Along with getting a new wing at Witt, the school will undergo a complete renovation. Total cost for the renovation and new wing is $17 million.
In addition, Gullett will receive five or six new portables this coming school year to handle the students until the new wing can be constructed. The new wings at all the schools should be constructed and open by August of 2019.
Along with those projects, the school district is building a new high school and a new elementary school in Parrish. The district will spend approximately $180 million on all the new construction.
The new middle school just east of Gullett will cost approximately $45 million to build with hopes of being open for the 2019-2020 school year. It will have a capacity of 1,164 students.
The new wing at Lakewood Ranch High School will cost $10 million. The wings at Gullett and Willis approximately will cost $2.7 million each.
Due to the half cent tax referendum passing in 2016, the district was able to finance a $150 million bond to go toward the new facilities, with the rest paid by impact fees.
Greene said even with the new high school being built in Parrish and being able to host 2,000 students, it isn't expected to attract many students away from Lakewood Ranch High. Therefore, the new wing became necessary.
The county predicts its student population will expand by 800 to 1,000 students during the upcoming school year and Greene said that growth isn't expected to slow down any time soon.
"I'm more nervous about a year from now, needing another school," Greene said. "(The new construction) will relieve some of the schools that are overcrowded, but I believe they will still be at capacity. At Nolan Middle School, we are 120% over capacity, and when we build a new middle school, we believe that school is going to open up to capacity, but I believe Nolan will be maybe at 95% capacity still.
"The concern is that [students] are still coming, and how do we make sure that we can serve all of our students until those facilities open up?"
Greene also confirmed the district is having talks with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch about a land swap that could lead to a new high school adjacent to the Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch.
She said the school district must decide if it is a viable location. "Is it going to offset what is happening in Lakewood Ranch (in terms of overcrowding)?"
Greene said it appears the deal would benefit both parties, but talks about the land swap are continuing.