With 229 more students than her high school's capacity limit, Braden River Principal Dr. Jennifer Gilray is keeping her eye on area growth.
Gilray knows that the School District of Manatee County expects to move forward in 2016 on plans for a new high school, which is expected to be constructed within the next five years.
But where will that school go?
Students from the three high schools over capacity — Lakewood Ranch, Braden River and Palmetto — are the targeted audience for the new facility, which is estimated to cost about $100 million to build.
Impact fees, the Half-Cent Sales Tax and a bond would finance the project.
The district hasn't pinpointed exactly where in Est County the high school will be located, but officials hope DeJong-Richter's Jan. 19 study on the district's capacity issue will firm up must-do projects needed to fix the imbalance in county classrooms.
Developments in Lakewood Ranch and surrounding East County neighborhoods mean the potential for more students to fill an already-crowded Braden River High School, which currently houses 2,084 students.
By the 2018-2019 school year, the school is projected to have 2,441 students, if growth continues as expected and an estimated 6,000 new students move to Manatee County.
"Our senior class this year is graduating 400 students," Gilray said. "My junior class is already at more than 500. The numbers just keep increasing."
With capacity issues affecting at least seven of the 13 schools in East County, the area really needs new schools, and especially a new high school, Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said.
"Countywide, we need two elementary schools and one middle school," Greene said. "There's no particular timeline set for a new elementary and middle school. It's a no brainer that we need a high school."
Lakewood Ranch High School is expected to surpass its capacity limit of 1,709 by 784 students within the next two school years, while Bayshore High School's student population rests about 200 students under capacity.
"There are school imbalances because of demographic shifting," said Patrick Leopold, of DeJong Richter.
Building additions to schools or updating portables is a $30 to $40 million investment the district could consider instead of building a new high school.
Collectively, Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high schools utilize a combined 24 portables.
Aside from development, there are other factors that are causing more stress on county schools, particularly those in the east portion of the county.
Open enrollment, which allows students to choose which school they attend, is boosting enrollment at newer schools, such as Braden River High, which is only 11 years old. It's also keeping numbers down at Bayshore and Palmetto high schools, even though Palmetto is still over capacity.
Eliminating open enrollment is a scenario that could help decrease enrollment at over-utilized schools, Leopold said.
Redistricting school zones, which would shift where some students are slated to attend school, is an option that could work hand-in-hand with terminating open enrollment, he added.
Gilray doesn't know whether those options are best for county students.
"Boundary issues can be divisive in a community," Gilray said. "But kids should go to the school closest to their home, so they can feel a part of their community. It's not effective to bus children past three schools to get to their school."
Until the district reviews DeJong-Richter's analysis, which has been in the works for more than a year, East County high schools are managing their resources as best as possible.
Luckily, both schools are in good condition, Leopold said. But the stress of housing too many students causes wear on buildings over time, he said.
"Our campus is fine right now," Gilray said. "It's looking to the future and upcoming growth that we're focused on. As a district, we have to get a handle on the capacity issue. This is a community issue, not just a problem at Braden River High School."