With a total of 353 students enrolled in Wrightsville Beach Elementary School — the highest in its history — the school is now just more than 100 students over capacity. This increase in students has placed a strain on the school’s facilities. The New Hanover County School Board and town of Wrightsville Beach are working to find nearby facilities to use as satellite classrooms for the extra students — with one possible option making use of two rooms in Wrightsville Beach Baptist Church nearby.
On Sept. 10, Mary Paul Beall, the school’s principal, said that the facilities were originally built to house 150 students, but that it has been able to expand by housing classrooms in mobile trailers on campus. Although Beall informed the school board of the increase in size the student body could’ve experience at the end of the last school year, she said there were multiple reasons why nothing could have been done to alleviate the problem before this school year began.
“You can’t just pull a trailer up; you have to go through all the different processes there,” Beall said. “You don’t really know until you actually have the bodies in the school; people can enroll kids and they don’t show up.”
The school’s student body totaled 320 at the end of last school year, and Beall said her administration received a number of calls from parents hoping to enroll their children because they were moving into the area or they were moving their children from private to public schools.
“Anytime someone calls to say they are moving into the area, we keep a list,” she said. “So we were aware of it before school got out, and then as summer went along those people actually did enroll their children.”
From a logistics standpoint, Beall said having to hold classes in the two rooms at Wrightsville Beach Baptist Church would not be a problem, since the school would be provided a bus to transport students down Coral Drive, and that those students would only be at the church facility from roughly 8 a.m. to
12:30 p.m. Because the land the church is located on is not zoned for the presence of a public school, the town will have to determine whether or not to allow it in this case.
While the town, school board and church discuss the possibility of holding classes there, Beall said one class is meeting in the school’s media center and another is rotating small groups in the cafeteria.
“Sure, some of the classes have a lot of students in them, but everybody is working together to make sure each child gets the best possible education that they can,” she said.
The overcrowding problem can be seen countywide, with 16 of 24 elementary schools currently over capacity, said Bill Hance, assistant superintendent for planning and operations with the school board. If the students cannot be temporarily relocated to the two classrooms in the church, they will have to remain in the current location, Hance said. The long-term solution is to bring in additional mobile classroom units, which will also have to be approved by the town board.
“That’s a longer evolution,” Hance said in a telephone interview on Sept. 10. “We’re looking for something right now that would carry us through the end of the year.”
A text amendment to the town ordinance was submitted to the Wrightsville Beach Planning Board Friday, and Hance said a proposed lease with the church, which would run through December, would be presented to the town as soon as possible.
The proposed lease will go before the school board at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 18. If approved, the school board’s decision will be contingent upon the town giving authorization to use the church rooms.
After Tim Markley, superintendent for New Hanover County Schools, sent an email on
Sept. 10 to the town inquiring whether or not it could waive a preliminary review by the Wrightsville Beach Planning Board before the board of aldermen, town attorney John Wessel replied on Sept. 11 that the town could not waive any procedural requirements. Skipping any of these steps would render any change to the planning ordinance invalid, Wessel said.
In addition to being subject to review by the planning board, town planner Eryn Moller said on Sept. 12 that the change would have to be advertised for two consecutive weeks and notices to adjacent neighbors would have to be sent out at least 10 days prior to any public hearing. The next scheduled meeting for the planning board is Oct. 2 and Moller said the town would have plenty of time to complete the necessary steps before the board of aldermen’s Oct. 11 meeting.
This story has been updated since it was reported on www.LuminaNews.com on Sept. 10.