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East County Sunday, Jun. 5, 2022 4 weeks ago

Population explosion forces expansion of Parrish Community High earlier than expected

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Parrish Community High School, which draws East County students, gets $15 million addition ahead of schedule.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

After only three years since its opening, Parrish Community High School is close to capacity.

The school was built to serve the growing Parrish community while also to alleviate stress on Lakewood Ranch High School by pulling some East County students away. 

With the area's population continuing to grow at a rapid pace, the School District of Manatee County has decided the need for an addition at Parrish Community High is needed sooner than anticipated.

The school opened in August 2019 with 535 students enrolled in ninth and 10th grades. A grade level was added each year over the next two years. 

At the end of this school year, Joe Ranaldi, the chief operations officer for the School District of Manatee County, said the school had 1,737 students enrolled, just 306 students shy of the school’s capacity of 2,043. 

“We’re tracking the number of housing units and potential housing units,” Ranaldi said. “District wide, we’re looking at about almost 29,000 additional dwelling units, and we know that about half of that is coming from the eastern region. Keeping that in mind, with that number of students coming, at the high school level we could be looking at almost 1,000 high school students coming over the next five to seven years.”

A 16-classroom addition always was part of the plan for Parrish Community High School. A pad for the addition was built along with the new school, but the district didn’t expect to have to construct the actual addition until at least six years after the school’s opening. 

Ranaldi said Florida's Department of Education doesn’t allow districts to build more than what’s needed, so at the time of planning for Parrish Community, they couldn't build what now will be the addition. The School District of Manatee County began planning Parrish Community High School in 2017. 

Now with the expeditious growth in Parrish and the greater Lakewood Ranch area, the district hopes the additions at Parrish Community and Lakewood Ranch high schools will accommodate the growth. 

“Sometimes you can’t project how quickly the developers are going to be completing the dwelling units,” Ranaldi said. “We see at this point there will be the need for high school student stations in that area based on the speed the developments are happening and the number of developments.”

As the district saw more plans for developments, Ranaldi said officials knew they needed a new plan. 

“We immediately began to look at options, and one of the most economic ways to gain capacity was to use the existing building pad that was planned in 2017,” he said.

This diagram shows where the Lakewood Ranch High addition will be added.

Ranaldi said the gap in capacity of about 300 students at Parrish will be enough space to give the district the time needed to build the classroom addition at the school without overcrowding.

“We felt that the existing capacity of 300 would be taken up fairly quickly, and we needed to move forward, especially with construction cost escalation and all that,” he said. “The sooner we can start construction, the better at this point.”

As the Parrish addition is in the process of being built, Ranaldi said the district will not need to put portables on campus to accommodate students. 

Lakewood Ranch High School will have a 22-classroom addition that will include 20 classes and two science labs. Designs for the $13.2 million addition project were presented to the School Board of Manatee County in January. 

The addition will allow the school to stop using the 20 portables located between Buildings 4 and 5 on the Lakewood Ranch High campus. The portables will not be removed from campus as it would cost between $400,000 and $500,000 to have them removed. 

Ranaldi said the district is not having discussions about rezoning as both Lakewood Ranch’s and Parrish’s attendance zones see more students. 

As growth continues in eastern Manatee County, the district has land for a new high school, but it is not included in the district’s five-year capital plan. 

“We might need the high school out there, but we feel the addition that we’re doing at Lakewood Ranch and the (Parrish) addition will at least get us through that five-year period,” Ranaldi said. “Then we’ll start seeing the new high school on our budget.”

The new high school would be located on 103 acres on the north side of 59th Avenue East in Lakewood Ranch, just west of Post Boulevard.

A new K-12 charter school could open spaces at high schools in the area as students choose to apply for and attend Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy.

Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy, which is located on an 18-acre site on White Eagle Boulevard, will open in August enrolling students in kindergarten through sixth grade and ninth grade. The enrollment is about 740 students. The school had nearly 1,500 applications and a waitlist for every grade. 

The high school for Lakewood Ranch Prep will be constructed and open in August 2023 to bring the school’s total enrollment to 1,965 across all grades. 

When the high school opens in 2023, it will serve ninth and 10th grades while the elementary school serves kindergarten through seventh grade. Each year, the schools will add a grade level until Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy serves kindergarten through eighth grade and Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy High School serves ninth through 12th grade.

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