Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Build out (and run out of room) or up: Architect presents Topsail High campus expansion

The Pender County Board of Education is considering an expansion to Topsail High School. (Courtesy LS3P).

PENDER COUNTY — An overcrowded Pender County high school may be gaining classroom space per a presentation given to the Pender County Board of Education late last month.

The school board is exploring expanding Topsail High School to alleviate the campus’ overcrowding and accommodate the county’s growing student population. Charles Boney of LS3P, the original architect of Topsail High, presented three options for classroom additions at the board meeting. 

READ MORE: 7 books to be removed so far in Pender schools, removal list originated with Durham advocacy group

According to Boney, the planned expansion could add up to 12 classrooms; with 25 students per classroom, the school could hold 300 more students. 

Topsail High has 1,734 students enrolled, yet the campus is only built for 1,400. That ratio reflects a larger problem with overcrowding in Pender County Schools. In January, almost 11,000 students attended across 19 schools, making the district more than 90% capacity system-wide. 

Topsail High has another specific problem: The property, located on 10 acres, is virtually out of land to build on. Yet, Boney found two areas to add classroom space. 

The first is in the middle of school; the design carves out an area for two regular-sized classrooms (750 to 850 square feet), two lab-style classrooms and two seminar rooms, along with restrooms. 

The second area would be easier to reach, however, because it would be a 9,200-square-feet add-on to the exterior of the building. Boney’s design is for six classrooms endcapped by an administration office and lobby, aimed to aid student discharge at the end of the day. 

Another option would be to drop the lobby space for an additional classroom, for a total of 11,400 square feet. 

Board member Beth Burns said the proposed expansion would not solve the overcrowding problem at Topsail but “would still buy us some time.” 

Boney said the board could continue adding on more classrooms to those in the design, up to 12. Then, it would need to consider vertical construction, specifically adding a two-story building. 

Board members asked if it could undergo the current expansion design, built with the option to expand vertically in the future. Boney affirmed they could add a second story, but at a third story, the board would start to get less for its dollar.

The challenge with expanding the building’s footprint is contending with the lack of available land on Topsail High’s property, which is also the location of Topsail Middle. Despite the fact the district can only build outward so far, when they do, it also increases impervious surface area. That leads to what Boney described as Topsail High’s greatest problem: stormwater runoff. 

Boney said the school board could explore reworking its property lines or campus layout, but the easiest solution might be to “buy their way out” with mitigation efforts. The board of education could transfer excess property into a land bank to earn credits, he suggested. They could be used for offsetting costs associated with breaking stormwater regulations.

Board chair Ken Smith pointed to 20 acres the board owns near the school that is essentially landlocked — a potential land bank tract. 

Isela Martinez, an architect for LS3P and parent to two Topsail High students, also spoke about complications with an outward expansion. She said it was really difficult to get through pick-up and drop-off lines at the school, with additional traffic jams expected upon completion of the Hampstead Bypass. The highway runs right by the campus. 

She said a vertical expansion could avoid disrupting car flow. 

The board did not discuss funding mechanisms for the possible expansion; the project would not be covered by the recently passed $178-million bond. That money is allocated for a new elementary and middle school, along with other renovations and additions to existing campuses.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at 

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