CAPE CARTERET — County school officials are concerned about the impact of residential growth in the western part of the county on schools, especially White Oak Elementary.
“We must be proactive as these numbers increase,” Board of Education Chairman John McLean said in an email Friday to the News-Times. “A new classroom building and other improvements were recently made at White Oak Elementary and modular classrooms were recently added to Croatan High School. Now, even those additions will not hold the projected growth. The Board of Education will continue to monitor and will discuss plans to address the growth.”
Concern about the impacts of growth on her school has prompted White Oak Elementary School Principal Terri Brett and the school’s parent advisory council to invite school board members and county commissioners to tour the facility and see the effects firsthand. That tour will take place Thursday.
Ms. Brett announced her invitation for the tour during the Jan. 7 school board meeting with school advisory council chairmen. During that meeting, she said based on unofficial information gathered by her school’s parent advisory council, there are approximately 10 housing development projects currently under way or planned in the school’s district.
“We have to be prepared,” Ms. Brett said. “I’m excited about the growth, but we need to have a plan.”
In a joint email statement issued by Ms. Brett and the school’s advisory council members following the meeting, the message was reiterated.
“We are very concerned about the growth on the western end of the county and the impact it will have on the western schools,” it states. “Some of the impact will be felt by the beginning of the next school year if not sooner as several houses have already been purchased. At the present time, our school is over capacity for the cafeteria, gym, restrooms and parking lot just to name a few areas.”
County Schools Interim Superintendent Richard Paylor, in an email Friday to the News-Times, said officials are aware of the growth.
“The western end of Carteret County is experiencing rapid residential growth. Because growth in any particular area of our county can, and will, impact our schools and classroom sizes, we have for years worked with county and municipal planners,” Mr. Paylor said.
“We watch such things as zoning changes for large tracts of property, building permits, and the price points of new homes. We also are in contact with military officials about plans for expansion, and what types of workers and military personnel those plans will involve.”
Mr. Paylor added that he is working on updating the school system’s building capacities.
“I hope to have them complete in the next week or so,” Mr. Paylor said.
The News-Times reached out to Assistant County Planning Director Gregg Hartman on Friday to get more information on how many subdivisions are planned along the N.C. 58 and N.C. 24 western corridor, with no response by presstime.
The News-Times also emailed County Manager Tommy Burns and County Commission Chairman Bill Smith for comments, with no response by presstime.
Ms. Brett said as for her school’s enrollment, there were 805 students at the end of the 2018-19 academic year. For the 2019-20 year, enrollment has been as high as 832 so far, according to Ms. Brett.
“Our enrollment fluctuates,” she said. “We just enrolled two students Thursday.”
Ms. Brett said while a new 16-room classroom addition opened two years ago has helped relieve some of the pressure, that space is now filled and the common areas, such as the cafeteria, are crammed with students. The principal added that she had to add a second prekindergarten class this year.
“For the short term, we have classroom space. But our cafeteria is not larger. Our gym is not larger,” Ms. Brett said.
White Oak isn’t the only school feeling the effects of growth. Bogue Sound Elementary School Principal Jenny Bell said her school has seen an increase in students.
“Last year we were at 436 students. Currently, we are at 451,” Ms. Bell said in an email Thursday. “With the new housing developments coming up in the area (Bogue Watch, Cannon’s Gate, Salt Creek, and others that we [the county] just approved to be built in our district), we are concerned because we have some wiggle room, but not much.”
Ms. Bell added that this year’s kindergarten class is the largest in the school’s history.
“We usually are in the 60’s. This year we are at 86 students,” she said.
WOES and BSE feed into Broad Creek Middle School, with Broad Creek students feeding into Croatan High School.
The principals of BCMS and CHS did not respond to News-Times emails by presstime.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.