CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – The chair of Horry County’s school board says the district could need more than 100 new schools in the next two decades.
This comes after county planners said earlier this week that nearly 300,000 people are projected to move to Horry County over the next 20 years. The Imagine 2040 plan, which is a comprehensive guide for the county’s future, estimates about 275,000 more people will live in Horry County by 2040.
Horry County Schools board chair Ken Richardson says HCS may need to more than double its number of schools in the next two decades if that new population projection is accurate. After hearing about the population estimate during the Horry County Council workshop Monday, Richardson says he did some quick math to see how that projection would impact HCS.
Richardson estimates if one-third of those 275,000 people have one child, HCS would need 100-120 more schools.
“We have tried to do the best planning we can, but we have not planned for 90,000 more students in the next 20 years,” he said. “Think about the number of teachers we’ve got to go out and find. We’re having a hard enough time now finding good teachers in the state of South Carolina.”
Richardson says the ideal size of a school would be 600-700 students in an elementary school, 800-1,000 students in a middle school and 900-1,200 students in a high school. Richardson says there is a chance some schools could be expanded beyond those limits, depending on several factors.
Imagine 2040 also says at least 22 of the district’s 57 schools could be at or over capacity by 2023, without capital improvement projects to build new or expanded buildings. About 37% of people in the county now are 55 or older, many retired or without kids in kindergarten through 12th grade. The planners behind Imagine 2040 say Horry County is likely to keep attracting more retirees over the next two decades.
Still, Richardson says these projections indicate HCS likely needs to plan on adding or upgrading dozens of schools in the next 20 years.
“You can imagine what it would be like to have to build 80 or 90 more schools,” said Richardson. “You talk about the growth in the county, where are we going to get the property to build these schools?”
Another question is how HCS will pay to build them. Richardson says the district will likely need more ways to raise money.
One way would be charging impact fees on new developments.
“We’re going to have to have the penny sales tax pass again, so that we’ve got some money there,” Richardson said. “We want to try and do this in a way where we’re not raising the tax millage. We don’t want to penalize the people that have been living here a long time because of the new people coming in.”
Imagine 2040 also estimates more than three-quarters of the people moving to Horry County will be in four school attendance areas. Those are Carolina Forest, St. James, North Myrtle Beach and Socastee.
The Imagine 2040 plans also outlines some schools that are likely focuses for future projects. Some are already in the works, like a new Horry County Education Center, also called “the alternative school,” as well as replacements for the Conway Education Center and Whittemore Park Middle School.
Other potential new schools that didn’t make the final project list for the five-year capital plan are also mentioned in Imagine 2040. Two new schools are listed for Carolina Forest: one off of Carolina Forest Boulevard, another off Ronald McNair Boulevard. HCS has an option until the end of the year to buy land off Ronald McNair for a school.
A replacement for St. James Elementary School is also listed in Imagine 2040. Parents of kids at the school have complained for most of 2019 about mold issues in the 63-year-old building.
A new intermediate school in the Little River area is also mentioned in the county’s comprehensive plan. Additions or renovations are also listed for the high schools in Myrtle Beach, Conway, Socastee and St. James. Aynor’s elementary and middle schools are also on Imagine 2040 for additions or renovations.
Horry County Council is expected to hold a public hearing about Imagine 2040 at its September 3 meeting.