With the population of northeast Richland County expected to continue its exuberant growth for years to come, Richland 2 leaders are looking ahead at the school district’s near-future facilities needs and beginning preparation to meet them.
Among the ideas being discussed are the possibilities of new on-site football stadiums at Ridge View and Richland Northeast high schools and the possible need, by 2024, for an additional high school and, by 2025, an elementary school. There are no firm plans at this point for those items, only concepts and early dialogues about pros, cons and potential future steps.
“Right now everything is just out there to say, hey, we have some needs,” school board member Craig Plank said. “The district ages. Schools age. Growth happens. We’ve got to be able to manage that.”
No one discussed where a new high school might be built. But growth in northern Richland County is strongest near Blythewood, where a new high school opened in 2005 and by 2007 had nearly 1,900 students in a building meant for 1,700.
With more than 27,000 students, Richland 2 is the Midlands’ largest school district.
It will open its 20th elementary school in August 2017 in the Dentsville area, making it the district’s second new elementary school to open since 2014.
At a cost of about $28 million paid for out of a $306 million bond package passed by voters in 2008, the school is expected to alleviate crowding at the aging Conder and Keels elementary schools, which are pushing capacity, as well as to draw some students from Forest Lake and Windsor elementary schools.
District leaders could make a decision on redrawn attendance lines to accommodate the new school as early as this summer, with community input.
Enrollment in Richland 2 has grown by more than 6,300 students in the past decade, making it one of the fastest-growing in the state, according to a long-range facilities planning study recently presented to school board members. The district expects it could add an average of more than 300 new students each year over the next decade.
Beyond the opening of the new elementary school, the district’s vision for facilities growth is mostly conceptual for now.
Those concepts include the possibility of building stadiums that top 4,600 in seating capacity at both Richland Northeast and Ridge View high schools. Home football games for both schools currently involve traveling to one of the district’s three shared stadiums that are located on the campuses of its other high schools.
The estimated cost to build a stadium at Richland Northeast, if the district chooses to pursue it, is $7.1 million. At Ridge View, a stadium could cost $8.9 million to take into account a more challenging topography.
$28 million Cost of a new elementary school, already paid for, to open in August 2017
$7.1 million Estimated cost of a new stadium at Richland Northeast High School, which is a concept only
$8.9 million Estimated cost of a new stadium at Ridge View High School, which is a concept only
But those stadium concepts won’t take shape without ample public input down the road, district leaders say.
“I’d love specific feedback on that from the community just to test the waters of what people’s thoughts are, concerns are,” school board chairman James Manning said at a Tuesday facilities committee meeting of board members and district staff. “If we just get total blowback from the community ... then that gives us some direction for either adjusting the plan or making it bigger or ditching it, just depending on what their feedback is.”
The newer Blythewood and Westwood high schools were built with football stadiums, unlike the older Richland Northeast and Ridge View high schools. Richland Northeast and Ridge View parents and students have long envied the other schools’ stadiums.
The district’s more immediate, five-year plan that is taking shape will focus more on financing the needs of its existing infrastructure – keeping its current facilities up to high standards – than on growth.
District leaders expect to host public presentations of the district’s five-year facilities needs to receive community input in the coming months.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.
Prepping for growth in Richland 2
$28 million – Cost of a new elementary school, already paid for, to open in August 2017
$7.1 million – Estimated cost of a new stadium at Richland Northeast High School, which is a concept only
$8.9 million – Estimated cost of a new stadium at Ridge View High School, which is a concept only
More than 300 students – Estimated annual growth in the district in the coming decade