Jacksonville’s two-year-old elementary school has almost run out of room for students, but a former official says the plan was always to build more classrooms to meet enrollment growth.
The Jacksonville Board of Education last week talked about renting a mobile classroom so that Kitty Stone Elementary could handle an overflow of students in the fall. Some former city education leaders say while Kitty Stone was built with some growth in mind, it was mainly designed so a middle school wing could one day be added to meet the system’s future enrollment needs.
“It was designed so that they could add a middle school to tie in to the existing building,” said Jon Paul Campbell, former Jacksonville superintendent who is now retired and living in Hokes Bluff. “The big thing would be getting the funding for it.”
During a Jacksonville school board meeting last week, Superintendent Mark Petersen recommended the system rent a mobile classroom to free up space in Kitty Stone. Petersen had said registration for the school had already topped more than 900 students and there could still be more before the school year starts in August.
The board took no action at the meeting but is expected to vote on the recommendation in a future meeting.
David Glass, who was a board member when the new Kitty Stone was approved, said constructing a middle school was part of the puzzle to meet any future student growth needs.
Currently, middle school students are split between Jacksonville’s two schools — with sixth graders at Kitty Stone and seventh and eighth graders at Jacksonville High. Opening a middle school would free up classrooms in the elementary and high schools.
“Future growth was going to be handled by adding a middle school onto it,” Glass said of Kitty Stone. “That was the master plan.”
Mike Poe, another former board member when Kitty Stone was approved, said while the school was built with some growth in mind, adding a middle school made the most sense to deal with big enrollment gains.
“The school was designed to have a middle school wing that would connect to the lunchroom,” Poe said. “I was already a real proponent of a middle school anyway … we just didn’t have the funding to do it.”
Petersen told the board last week that a middle school wing was the long-term solution to student growth.
“I think we need to have a middle school to deal with middle school issues,” Petersen said.
However, Petersen suggested a middle school building would be best added to the high school by the hall where the seventh graders are held.
Regardless, state enrollment numbers appear to show a growing need for more classroom space in Jacksonville.
According to Alabama Department of Education numbers, not only has Jacksonville’s elementary school enrollment grown in the last four years, its been the only system in Calhoun County to consistently do so.
The records show that Jacksonville had 912 pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students last year, compared to 841 students in 2014. Anniston, Oxford, Calhoun County and Piedmont’s school systems all saw drops in total enrollment for those same grades over the same period.
U.S. Census numbers show that Jacksonville has had an estimated population jump too — from 11,791 in 2010 to 12,827 in 2016.
Amy Angel, a real estate broker with Keller Williams in Jacksonville, said home sales in the city have spiked in the last few years.
“When homes are on the market here it’s like a feeding frenzy … they’re snapped up very quickly,” Angel said. “The last three years have been better than what I’ve seen in the last 15 years.”
Angel’s housing numbers show that 97 homes were sold in Jacksonville in the first quarter of this year. Also, those homes were on the market an average of 79 days before they were sold.
In contrast, 74 Jacksonville homes were sold and were on the market an average of 170 days in the first quarter of 2014, records show.
Sales prices have jumped too, with a Jacksonville home selling for an average of $138,395 in the first quarter of 2018, compared to an average of $127,235 during the same period four years ago.
“And they are typically family homes,” Angel said of the homes being sold. “Something has happened the last couple of years.”
Campbell said the new Kitty Stone and the school system as a whole might be helping attract families.
“The hope was when it was built that if you build it, they will come,” Campbell said, referring to Kitty Stone. “That is a good thing that enrollment is increasing because it shows the vitality of the city … and more people creates more revenue.”
Staff Writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.