HCS details potential need for three new schools in 5-year plan

Myrtle Beach Middle is the newest Horry County school, but it may not be for a whole lot longer because of an improvement plan being considered.
Myrtle Beach Middle is the newest Horry County school, but it may not be for a whole lot longer because of an improvement plan being considered.

Horry County school officials will begin talks regarding a five-year capital improvement plan on Monday, with the potential construction of three new schools at the heart of the matter due to a steady stream of new residents pouring into the area.

According to the 37-page plan released Friday, new elementary school buildings would be built in Carolina Forest and North Myrtle Beach to help offset concerns about growth in those areas of the county. St. James Elementary could also be in line for a new building, replacing the current structure that was built in the 1950s and remodeled in 1986.

The estimated price tag for the three projects would cost more than $141 million, with the last of those slated to break ground during the 2022-23 school term.

Monday’s meeting will be the first time school trustees have formally discussed the plans included in the document. According to Horry County school board chairman Joe DeFeo, the arrangements are preliminary at best.

“It is a five-year plan, but as of this moment the school board has not formally made any decision regarding the matter,” he said. “But it is true, we have to look toward the future. And who knows what that holds, things could pushed ahead or it may take longer.

“But it is certainly something worth us discussing.”

The most urgent of the construction projects is a new school in the Carolina Forest community, meant to alleviate concerns of overcrowding at River Oaks Elementary.

Thirty acres in the Pine Island area at the intersection of Ronald McNair Blvd. and Christa McAuliffe St. are believed to be an “ideal” location for the new school “and would be conveniently located to the population that would likely be served.” Should this occur, the school board could look into redrawing attendance zones for Carolina Forest and Ocean Bay elementary schools, the plan states.

“We’re less than five years in and River Oaks is already overcrowded,” DeFeo said. “It just speaks to the rapid growth in the Carolina Forest area, which doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.”

The plan has construction starting during the 2019-2020 school term. Should the current trend of population growth continue, the proposal calls for another elementary school to be built for students residing in the Carolina Forest community.

North Myrtle Beach is experiencing similar growth that has trickled its way into the school system.

According to Horry County Schools, the area is the fourth-fastest growing student center locally and makes up more than 11 percent of its overall student population. As a result, schools like Ocean Drive and Riverside elementary schools are at or over capacity.

To address the issue of overcrowding, construction on a new North Myrtle Beach elementary school will begin during the 2020-21 term. Approximately 900 students will be housed at the facility.

This also will have an impact on other elementary school campuses. Ocean Drive will be converted to an early childhood center for students in kindergarten and first grade, while those in second through fifth grades will move to Riverside and Waterway elementary schools.

“As well as for the proposed new school, this plan would allow room for growth in both Riverside Elementary School and Waterway Elementary School for the long term,” the plan states.

A new St. James elementary school is planned to serve 1,000 students. It will be built near the current facility, allowing HCS to keep a recently constructed parent loop and bus parking lot intact.

The current St. James Elementary will be razed after completion of the new school, the plan states.

For DeFeo, the prospect of preparing for the future has become a recurring thing.

“It’s a never-ending thing,” DeFeo said. “It’s great to have an environment that makes people want to live here, and our schools have a lot to do with that. Realtors are advertising how good our schools are businesses are using that as a reason to locate here as well.”

Joe L. Hughes II: 843-444-1702, @thejournalist44