BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Located in the fastest-growing town in the state, North Brunswick High’s enrollment is expected to exceed its current capacity by 2028, topping 1,400 students in the next two years.
Tuesday, as the local school board faced a redistricting vote, the members weighed recommendations from its consultants to free up space in the ballooning Leland high school.
“The biggest pressure that we see in your county exists in the north,” Matthew Cropper, president of Cropper GIS Consulting, told the school board during a Mar. 23 presentation. “It’s what we’re seeing with North Brunswick High School.”
A fast-track solution to move students in the Mallory Creek community from North Brunswick High to South Brunswick High, a roughly 20-minute drive from Leland to the outskirts of Southport, was passed over.
Instead, the Brunswick County Board of Education plans to pursue an addition of 300 to 400 seats at North Brunswick High in the next five years.
How it will accomplish that is not clear.
Although the board vocally committed to the idea Tuesday, it still needs to identify funding for any capital project at North Brunswick High School.
The capacity issues at North Brunswick High were highlighted this past week as part of the school board’s redistricting decision that affected roughly 100 students. Approximately 71 elementary-school students, nine middle-school students and 20 high-school students were assigned to different schools.
This was the second phase in a two-part redistricting process; the first phase wrapped in December 2019. It focused on northern Brunswick County and made way for the new Town Creek Middle School, which opened this fall. The second phase started in September and focused on aligning feeder patterns district-wide and identifying needs for future capital projects.
Based on its enrollment forecast, Cropper GIS said it does not foresee the need for any additional elementary- or middle-school capacity within the next 10 years. Cropper said while some places are experiencing constraints and similar challenges, the consultants predict the problems will “level off” and the district can address strains through reviews of its building utilization.
The same could not be said for North Brunswick High. At 71% capacity and just under 1,300 students currently, the need for relief is not immediate but forthcoming. A forecast developed by the consultants in October 2019 shows the population of the high school continues to creep up with new students added each year.
Enrollment is expected to reach over 1,500 by 2028, topping 103% capacity by 2029, as larger classes come in from the middle schools and smaller class sizes graduate out.
“Kids are living here; they’re here, and the enrollment is going to continue to increase,” Cropper said in his presentation. “But, with that said, I know that there are limited resources in the county, as most school districts have limited resources.”
Cropper recommended a “contingency plan” to redistrict the Mallory Creek subdivision from North Brunswick High to South Brunswick High once the northern school’s population mounted to 1,400. However, he said the community was vocal about transportation-related concerns.
“They’re not wrong that it is going to create a much longer distance and a longer commute for them,” Cropper said. “The transportation is not ideal, but if there is no other alternative, it may be something that the district needs to exercise to get North Brunswick some breathing room and avoid further overcrowding.”
Chair Ed Lemon said he was “unwilling to tie” future board members’ hands now by voting to redistrict Mallory Creek on the condition that the school reaches capacity.
Other board members agreed for varying reasons, including a desire to maintain neighborhood schools and the hazards of the trek. With trees causing blind spots at points, the long and sometimes windy N.C. 133 is infamous for car wrecks.
“I do not want to move those kids,” board member Robin Moffitt said. “It’s a 14-, 16-mile drive down 133. I don’t feel comfortable having those kids out early morning, late night, after practice, after a game. To me, it’s not safe.”
Still, officials made tweaks in the redistricting vote Tuesday to delay the impending congestion in North Brunswick High. A small group of students living in the southern portion of North Brunswick High’s boundaries was redistricted to South Brunswick High.
Additionally, a portion of undeveloped land — south of Mallory Creek, which was assigned to North Brunswick — was redistricted so any future residents would funnel into Bolivia Elementary, South Brunswick Middle and South Brunswick High.
The vote also significantly impacted Waccamaw, establishing a 100% K-8 zone for the school. An area of neighbors assigned to Jessie Mae Monroe Elementary moved to Waccamaw, which also opened space at Jessie Mae Monroe. Waccamaw students zoned for Shallotte Middle in grades 6-8 were realigned to continue at the K-8 school through the later grades.
One part of the community east of Middleton Boulevard and Midway Road, largely in St. James, currently zoned for Virginia Williamson Elementary School, is moving to Southport Elementary. Virginia Williamson will now feed entirely into Cedar Grove Middle, rather than splitting students with South Brunswick Middle.
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