Half of Horry County schools are at or near capacity — Here’s what might help

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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Horry County schools are getting crowded.

Half of the district’s schools are at or near capacity, with the district gaining enough new students each year to fill an elementary school.

“It’s been tremendous. we’ve had annually added about 2 percent a year to our student body so that equates to about 600 to 800 students a year on average,” said Joe Burch, who forecasts the district’s growth and capital projects for Horry County Schools.

By 2025, its expected to grow by 3,451 enough students to fill 3 or 4 schools.

The estimated student population in 2025 is 47,053.

The majority of growth is expected to be in the Carolina Forest area, followed by Conway, Socastee and the St. James areas.

The district looks at historical trends, birth rates and kindergarten and first grade enrollments in order to make predictions. It also keys an eye on new construction and subdivision approvals that could bring in more students.

Burch says it can take decades for a large subdivision — like Carolina Forest — to fully develop.

“Carolina Forest was approved in the 90s, and we knew that was going to have 30,000 people in it, when it built out,” Burch said. “We’ve seen it coming we’ve addressed it. It’s rapid growth. Managing it is the challenge even when you see it coming.”

The school system drew Bridgette Herbert, who has a child that attends Carolina Forest Elementary School, to the area.

“I love Carolina Forest,” she said. “There’s a reason why people love flocking to that area.”

But the school, she said, is crowded.

“It’s definitely packed in that school,” she said. “Michael has quite a lot of kids in his first grade class, which is totally understandable.”

In the short term, the district is using modular units. By 2025, elementary schools in Carolina Forest could have up to 58 additional modular classrooms.

“We need some relief at those elementary schools. so the only way to get in the long term is new construction,” said Burch.

The district said it needs two new elementary schools in Carolina Forest in the next five to 10 years.

One school will give relief to River Oaks Elementary School and the other to Carolina Forest and Ocean Bay Elementary schools.

The district has bought two sites in Carolina Forest for the new schools — one off Carolina Forest Boulevard, and the other off Ronald McNair Boulevard.

“It becomes more and more challenging the more Horry County develops, especially in the high growth areas,” Burch said. “The amount of land that would be available for purchase for a school site diminished.”

For now, the district believes it has all the land it needs for future schools.

It also plans to rebuild Whittemore Park Middle School, South Conway Elementary School and St. James Elementary School due to the schools’ ages. It also wants to build additions to Aynor Elementary and Middle schools, along with a new bus lot.

Burch said an elementary school that can house 900 students will be $40.8 million. A middle school that holds 1,200 students is $62.36 million.

The money will likely come from the local option sales tax known as the penny sales tax. Voters approved the tax in 2008 and it runs out in 2024 unless Horry County voters decide to renew it next year.

If it passes, 80% of revenue generated from the tax goes to the district. The rest goes to Coastal Conway University and Horry-Georgetown Technical College.

The district has collected $645,344,028.83 in revenue from the tax, as of February.

The district said the approval of the sales tax allowed it to roll back debt service millage from $28 million to $10 million on all property, including houses, businesses, vehicles, land and personal property.

If it doesn’t pass, the district said it will explore other options to address facility needs.

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