Sometimes what we aren’t told is more important than what we are told.
As I was reading the application for Stone Haven, a 1650 home development proposed in the Brentsville District, I paid close attention to the section on schools. I noticed that 297 high school students were projected to arrive when their families move to Stone Haven. The report also noted that the high schools in the area were overcrowded, and stated that the 13th high school, with a capacity of 2,053 students would be built in the community.
I found this interesting because the implication was that the 13th high school, with it’s 2,053 student capacity, would be more than sufficient for the development and region.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Reality is that the 13th high school is already projected to be overcapacity when it opens and that Stone Haven will further exacerbate that overcrowding.
Here is a link to the spreadsheet I presented at the Oct 7, 2014 BOCS meeting on the capacity of high schools in the western end of the county and projected enrollment in those schools (BOCS). It contains projected enrollment figures for high schools in the western end of Prince William County, from this school year to the Fall of 2021.
The numbers listed in the columns for 2014 were obtained from the approved CIP for FY 2015 – 2024 from the PWCS facilities publications webs site. They show that, as of this fall, the capacity of the 4 west end high schools is about 7,700 and enrollment is about 9,000. That leaves west end high school roughly 18% overcapacity, with rising enrollment. Patriot high school is currently about 40% overcapacity, though it’s enrollment is, reportedly, steady.
In the Fall of 2016 the 12th high school is projected to open. Boundaries will change when that school opens, and enrollment figures will fluctuate. The numbers listed in the columns for Fall 2019 and Fall 2021 are from PWCS’ recommended boundary plan for the 12th high school (v1.2). They reflect the projected enrollment for west end high schools AFTER that boundary change plan has been implemented.
With the opening of the 13th high school, in 2019, the capacity for west end high schools will increase to about 9,700 students. Enrollment in 2019, without Stone Haven, is projected to be about 9,500 students; about 2% under capacity. However, 2 year later, by 2021, enrollment in western end high schools will exceed 10,000; roughly 3% overcapacity.
According to the application filed on Stone Haven, student enrollment projections can vary as much as 50% in either direction. PWCS projects that Stone Haven will add between 149 and 446 additional high school students, with a mid-point of 297.
Adding an additional 297 students to west end schools means that enrollment in those schools will have risen to about 10,300 by the Fall of 2021, leaving those schools roughly 6% overcapacity overall.
If you also take Potomac Station (2000 – 2500 proposed homes), Birkwood at Braemar (52 proposed homes), and Pioneer Assemblage (600 – 800 homes) into account, the 6% overcapacity in 2021 is more like 18% overcapacity. That means that in 2021, residents of the western end of the county will still be dealing with high schools that are just as overcrowded as they are now.
Things are not hopeless. There is a possible solution, one which was proposed by Gil Trenum at the most recent school board meeting. Mr Trenum asked the school division to reconsider the plans the 13th high school with the intent being to increase its size to about 2,500 students. I agree with Mr Trenum. We can’t keep building 2000 student high schools and jamming them with 2700 kids. If we need 2500 or 2700 student high schools, because high schools are too expense, land intensive, and time consuming to build, then we should build high schools that are large enough to accommodate the student population we have.
The BOCS voted unanimously to defer the vote on Stone Haven until the school division has prepared preliminary plans and cost estimates for a larger 13th high school. The public hearing was left open, so citizens will have an opportunity to provide feedback when Stone Haven is again brought forward. That meeting is scheduled for the 3rd BOCS meeting in January.