ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - St. Johns County School Board members voted Tuesday morning to approve a plan to purchase land to build a new high school in an effort to ease some of the overcrowding at area schools.
The site is nearly 70 acres of property on International Golf Parkway next to Mill Creek Academy, which is also in the process of being converted into a K-8 school to accommodate for the county's growth.
The hope is for construction to begin in either late fall or early winter. If all goes according to plan, the new high school would be open in time for the 2021-22 school year.
According to the agreement, the district would pay just over $7 million for the 68.7-acre property owned by the Pacetti family in St. Johns County. Family members were there for the meeting Tuesday morning.
“There is definitely a great need," said Keith Kirker, a member of the Pacetti family. "The growth is astronomical. I don’t know where they’re going to put all the kids.”
School leaders said one of the things that drew them to International Golf Parkway is the road itself. It’s already four lanes, meaning they believe it can accommodate another school and all that comes with it.
The St. Johns County School District said the last time a high school was built in St. Johns was in 2008. The population has been booming ever since.
According to the school district, current enrollment in St. Johns County stands at 12,320, with the highest enrollment for high schools being at Bartram Trail and Nease.
Superintendent Tim Forson said by adding the new high school in the central part of the county, the enrollment numbers at Bartram Trail and Nease high schools would drop closer to the 2,000 mark.
Forson said Tuesday's vote is a big step in the right direction, but more planning is needed.
“With a high school, it’s the most complex construction we do," he said. "There’s a planning and design plan that we’ll go through for most of the coming year.”
Forson added this first step puts the district a year ahead of when school leaders thought building a new high school would be possible.
“I actually was principal of Bartram Trail when it was near the numbers that it is now," he said. "I think the obvious concern is making sure we’re still thinking of the school one child at a time."
The school district is racing against the county’s booming growth to solve the problem of overcrowding.
Crews broke ground last year on an expansion of Mill Creek Academy. This fall, it will open to seventh graders. Eighth-grade classrooms will open the year after.
The district said there are still some things to figure out for the new high school, in particular how zoning and splitting up enrollment would work. But they believe this is a beginning to a solution to overcrowding.
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