The Fort Mill school district knows it’s going to have to build more schools but now has to figure out if it needs more land.
If so, options are increasingly limited, as residential growth fueling the need for new schools removes property from the market.
The district is considering five new schools in the next decade, according to the 10-year facility plan presented last month by consultant Jim Britton of the Cumming Corp., a Fort Mill-based construction management company.
Fort Mill will need two new middle schools, a third high school and two new elementary schools, according to the plan, which acts as a guide for the district to manage growth.
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Four sites for new schools – including one off Pleasant Road, where subdivisions are planned – already have been acquired, said Kelly McKinney, Fort Mill schools media and communications officer.
A new middle school likely will be slated for the development near Pleasant Road. The district also has property set aside on Sutton Road, where hundreds more houses are being built, for a new elementary school. It also has sites available adjacent to Sugar Creek Elementary and off Doby’s Bridge Road, McKinney said.
While those parcels are secured, the district has not yet decided what they will be used for, McKinney said.
At a Nov. 11 board meeting, district Superintendent Chuck Epps said the next step is for the district to form a task force to review the 10-year facility plan. McKinney said recently it is likely the district will have to purchase more land.
“Knowing that we are a growing district with future facility needs, buying more land makes sense to properly budget and plan for the growth,” McKinney said.
The district has acquired land through a variety of ways, including donations and purchases, she said. McKinney said finding new sites will be a challenge as developers want to build in Fort Mill.
“Sizable lots are harder to come by and the school district is not often invited to the developer’s table when developments are being approved by other town, city or county agencies,” she said.
The school district often asks developers considering a tract of land to discuss the possibility of including a school in their plan, said Assistant Superintendent Tommy Schmolze. “Most developers understand how an elementary and middle school helps sell lots more quickly, as well as increases the property value in the future for consideration of selling their homes,” he said.
High schools, however, pose a challenge to developers because of after-school activities and student drivers, Schmolze said.
Another challenge is that there are limited locations available, and what is on the market is priced to attract developers, said local Realtor Kathryn Miller. Developers “are willing and able to pay a higher price than the school district,” she said.
Ideally, the district looks for land in areas of high growth, Schmolze said.
“In Fort Mill and Tega Cay, we no longer have this luxury,” he said. “Most of the large tracts of land have already been developed.”
The district must consider all property in Fort Mill and Tega Cay as potential school sites, Schmolze said.
Typically, elementary schools need 20 to 25 acres; 35 to 40 acres are needed for middle schools; and high schools require more than 100 acres for 2,400-student facilities, with a full athletic component and flexibility for future growth, Schmolze said.
There is land available in Fort Mill the district may be able to explore, Miller said. “There is a lot of family land still out there.”
Schmolze said the district likely will contact land owners who have the acreage required for new schools. While some owners are open to selling land to a school, “cost per acre is typically what drives a sale,” he said.
Miller said that while she would like to see less development in the Fort Mill area, the school district has been proactive in planning for new schools to meet the growth.
“They’ve done a great job,” she said. “They have a good land bank already for coming schools. They know what they are doing.”