Last week, the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) released the 2020 Feasibility Study. The annual Feasibility Study provides a comprehensive look at the ten-year K-12 student enrollment projections. The intent of the document is to provide the most updated student enrollment projection to the Board of Education, staff members and public to inform capital and operating decisions.
The HCPSS capital budget includes building 3 new elementary schools in the county over the next ten years, currently planned for 2025-26, 2028-29, and 2030-31. The study identifies that the areas in most need for additional elementary school capacity are the Route 1 corridor in Laurel/Savage, Downtown Columbia, and the Turf Valley in the northwest part of the county. Laurel remains next in line for a new elementary school (New ES#43), but the updated Feasibility Study shows that Downtown Columbia has leapfrogged Turf Valley for New ES #44.
Here's the except from the study itself (see page 28/29).
The enrollment projections show that by 2030 the Laurel and Downtown Columbia areas will be adding the most students. With multiple schools projected to exceed 110 percent for SY 2020-21, two major residential developments, and no nearby schools with available capacity, the need in this area is the most urgent at the elementary level. For these reasons, it is recommended to continue prioritizing the construction of New ES #43 in the Laurel/Savage area, as recommended in previous studies. While it was suggested in the 2019 Feasibility Study that New ES #44 be planned for the northwest portion of the county, with projected capacity available at Bushy Park ES, Lisbon ES and Triadelphia Ridge ES, most of the crowding concerns could be alleviated using existing capacity in the near-term.
The schools in Columbia will have the highest utilization rates, with several schools over 110 percent capacity utilization, as well as two schools with greater than 120 percent capacity utilization. The schools serving the Downtown Columbia area are projected to exceed capacity by over 500 students in SY 2028-29. Enrollment is anticipated to grow and exceed target utilization for the foreseeable future; therefore, New ES #44 should be planned for this region for SY 2028-29. Recent development in this area has generated fewer new students than once predicted, but future development includes a variety of unit types with additional affordable housing. In addition, the Columbia region continues to have a growing need for many early childhood programs. HCPSS and the Board have three potential sites available in the Land Bank: Clary’s Forest, Sunny Spring, and Faulkner Ridge. Exploration should continue regarding future uses of the Faulkner Ridge Center and site, as well as Clary’s Forest and Sunny Spring, including the potential use as a regional early childhood center or elementary school. The creation of a regional early childhood center in the area could add 200-250 seats of capacity across several schools by repurposing existing Pre-Kindergarten and preschool rooms in existing elementary schools to K-5 classrooms. "
Here are the capacity utilization numbers for the elementary schools in Downtown Columbia (see page 33 of the Study):
As we have seen in the recent county budget, funding planned capital projects is far from a certainty. Adequate county revenue must be in place in order to invest in our county's infrastructure.
I have previously covered school capacity in Downtown Columbia, School capacity projects and available school sites in the county, and a Q&A with the District 4 Howard County Board of Education members on where the next elementary schools should be located.