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More additions, renovations planned for East County schools

The future of a new high school in Lakewood Ranch is uncertain.

The School District of Manatee County is making progress on its new K-8 school being built in Lakewood Ranch.
The School District of Manatee County is making progress on its new K-8 school being built in Lakewood Ranch.
Courtesy rendering
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More East County schools could see construction over the next five years if the School Board of Manatee County approves the proposed 2024-2025 through 2028-2029 capital plan. 

Under the proposed capital plan, Braden River High School and R. Dan Nolan Middle School are slated to have additions in 2027-2028. 

Braden River High is expected to have a 10-classroom addition while an eight-classroom addition is scheduled for Nolan Middle. 

But the biggest question is whether the district should, at this time, spend $200 million on a new high school in Lakewood Ranch on approximately 103 acres south of Rangeland Parkway and west of Post Boulevard. 

A new high school has been discussed for land near Premier Sports Campus.

The new high school is expected to help alleviate overcrowding at Lakewood Ranch High School. 

If the school board approves the capital plan as proposed, the high school would be scheduled to open in August 2027. 

Joseph Ranaldi, the deputy superintendent of operations for the School District of Manatee County, said the school plan is in its early stages and the district has yet to begin design work for it. 

Chad Choate, a member of the School Board of Manatee County, questioned the timing and necessity of the potential new high school. 

"I want to make sure we turn every stone before we take on more debt," Choate said. 

Choate said there are high schools in west Manatee County that are under capacity. Although rezoning would be a difficult and unpopular decision, he questioned whether rezoning the high schools to better balance the capacities among the schools would be a better option than spending $200 million on a new school.

“The reality is west of (Interstate) 75 is not where the growth is happening and we have classrooms empty on a lot of campuses, and it’s hard for me to swallow taking on $200 million worth of debt,” Choate said. 

He also questioned whether additions at other high schools will be enough to address the growth in the area.

A 16-classroom addition at Parrish Community High School will add 400 students to the school’s 2,043-student capacity. A proposed 10-classroom addition will add 250 students at Braden River High. 

The addition at Parrish Community High School was constructed earlier than previously expected. The school opened in 2019 with 5,353 students enrolled in ninth and 10th grades. A grade level was added each year over the next two years. The district wasn’t expecting to have to construct the addition until at least six years after the school’s opening. 

The 22-classroom addition at Lakewood Ranch High School opened in January, giving the district the opportunity to remove the 20 portables on the campus. 

Jason Wysong, the superintendent of the School District of Manatee County, said the district will have a plethora of discussions regarding future construction plans as the district progresses on the new K-8 school in East County as well as the elementary schools planned for Rye Ranch and Artisan Lakes. The K-8 school is expected to open the elementary portion in 2025 and the middle school in 2026. The elementary schools are expected to open in 2026. 

The new K-8 school in Lakewood Ranch will have a capacity of about 1,620 students.
Courtesy image

Wysong said the board will need to discuss geography, growth, transportation patterns and more.

“Another layer of that conversation is discussions about how big do we want schools to be, how small do we want schools to be, what are the budgetary and programming impacts of that, how are parent and family expectations changing relating to large high schools versus small high schools,” Wysong said. “If we have some of those conversations, that might illuminate whether (building a new Lakewood Ranch High School) makes sense or not. For now, it’s just a line on the capital plan but without the board approving funding, we can’t afford that campus just from our regular budget.”

School Board Member Cindy Spray said the schools are an important factor in where people will buy their homes. 

“The real challenge for us as a district is to make every school desirable. That is the real goal so we don’t have to look at one school’s overcrowding and another school with capacity,” Spray said. 

Besides new construction, the proposed capital plan includes a renovation at Myakka City Elementary School that is slated for fiscal year 2025-2026 at $24.6 million. 

The district also has allocated $400,000 every year for security fencing at schools. In the 2024-2025 school year, security fencing will be put up at Gilbert W. McNeal, Braden River, Freedom and Gene Witt elementary schools as well as Nolan Middle. 

Construction will continue on the new K-8 school being built on an approximately 40-acre site off Uihlein Road. 

The elementary portion of the school is expected to open in August 2025. It includes the classrooms for kindergarten through fifth grade as well as the core facilities such as the administration area, media center, kitchen, dining area and classrooms for art and music. 

The middle school portion of the school is expected to be complete in February 2026, and the school will welcome middle school students in August 2026. 

The school is projected to have 1,620 students, with the potential for an expansion that would add 250 students to the capacity. 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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