Polk School District Plans New Schools to Accommodate County Growth

Polk County Public Schools could add more than 10 new schools and undertake renovation projects to accommodate the large number of new students expected to flow into the county by 2041, according to an annual district plan.

The Capital Planning and Projects Map shows recently completed schools and renovations, as well as projects that are nearing completion – many of which are slated for ribbon cutting in 2023 and beyond.

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The plan was presented Tuesday at the Polk School Board’s business meeting and included information from the district’s facilities and operations department.

The document is considered a five-year plan, but its content is dynamic. By Florida law, it must be updated annually, but includes the district’s projected needs to educate students up to 20 years from now.

“We look at population projections using immigration, residential development, and ‘cohort survival methods’ (which add birth and death data to the calculation),” said Angela Usher, assistant superintendent of facilities and school district operations.

“Based on population – and population changes – we add capacity projects, we also add modernization projects with sales tax and we also continue with major maintenance,” she said, adding modernizations such as air conditioning and heating units being replaced. were funded by ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief).

The ESSER funds were part of the U.S. bailout passed by Congress in 2020 to better equip school districts for in-person learning and support student, teacher, and staff wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. according to the US Department of Education. Florida received a $7 billion prize for its share to distribute to local school districts.

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Some projects on Polk Schools’ plans from past years have been pushed back from the list, Usher said. For some reason, construction offers have been higher than expected, but they could increase as market conditions improve. The age and condition of school buildings can also put a retrofit ahead of schedule and push other schools down.

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For achievements, the plan stated that Bartow High School‘s upgrade phases had been completed and more were to come. Mulberry High School also got an upgrade.

Several additions and improvements were cited for parking lots, interior painting, covered walkways, heating and air conditioning replacements, drainage improvements, roof replacements, and additional fire alarm and security infrastructure.

Ongoing projects included the cafeteria at Medulla Elementary School, the gymnasium at Dennison Middle School, and covered walkways were being installed at several schools, including Winston and Auburndale Central Elementary Schools. Improvements to the administrative offices at Babson Park Elementary are nearing completion.

School improvement projects expected to be completed in 2023 also included the expansion of the Lakeland Clinic, Lake Wales Support Services, new air conditioning and windows for the Lake Gibson High School Gynecologist, Denison High School gymnasium, Medulla Elementary cafeteria, McLaughlin gymnasium and auditorium at La Rochelle School of the Arts.

The district plan also calls for five school construction projects next year, including: Fred G. Garner Elementary School, Southwest Middle School Upgrade, New 21-C Elementary School, the addition of Bella Citta Middle School and a new K-8 school.

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In addition, plans call for more upgrades, renovations and additions to the following elementary schools:

  • Elbert
  • Lena Vista
  • Wahneta
  • Lake Alfred
  • Floral
  • Haute Vista
  • crystal lake
  • Westwood
  • Early Learning Centers

The district plans to upgrade the gymnasiums at the following middle schools:

  • Lake Gibson
  • Lakes Highlands
  • Bartov
  • Blake Academy

Other projects include:

  • McLaughlin Auditorium
  • Spook Hill Cafeteria Replacement
  • James E. Stephens Interior Renovation
  • Lewis Anna Woodbury Elementary Dining Hall Replacement
  • Lake Region High added farming class

The district cited revenues of $915,907,342 between 2023 and 2027 for the college building plan from various sources.

School district property is already owned or negotiations with real estate developers are underway for many of the new schools named in the plan, Usher said.

By 2031, the district’s projected capacity needs will increase by 8,788 students, according to the plan. That could be accomplished with three and a half new elementary schools in total, with two in central Polk County adding 996 classroom spaces, one in the northeast at 996 spaces and another to be determined for 800 spaces.

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Through new construction or additions, the district would need 3,000 chairs for its middle grades and an additional 2,000 chairs for high school students. The location of a new secondary school must be in the northwest corner of the county.

The district projects enrollment in its schools to reach 116,755 by 2031. In 20 years, the district will need 10 new schools, according to the plan. Projected increases in enrollment by 2041 would be 12,449 students.

The plan’s numbers do not include charter school students or homeschooled students.

Following Usher’s presentation, school board president Sara Beth Wyatt expressed concern that projected enrollment may need to be higher.

“I’m really worried that we only think it’s only going to be 12,500 because I’d bet a lot it’s going to be more than that,” she said. “I believe of the 6,000 of us this year, the majority of them were in district-owned schools.”

“I think we need to plan more, that’s my only concern.” Wyatt said.

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Superintendent Frederick Heid said enrollment for this school year is over 114,000 students and that he would verify that this number only included enrollment in district schools.

The Polk County region is ranked among the fastest growing regions in the United States. Between July 2020 and July 2021, Polk’s population grew by 3.35% adding 24,287 people. Its population is now 753,520, according to the US Census Bureau.

Polk County Public Schools is ranked as one of the 30 largest US districts nationally and it is the 7th largest district in Florida. The district has more than 150 schools.

Paul Nutcher can be contacted at pnutcher@gannett.com.

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