One in a series.

The need for new or expanded school campuses grows daily at Central Texas school districts — especially those located off the state’s busiest highway.

By the dozens, new students arrive every month.

From just south of the Bell County line to its northern boundaries, school districts adjacent to or near Interstate 35 — Temple, Belton, Salado, Academy, Troy and Jarrell, for example — are dealing with booming student populations that will require campus improvements to accommodate growth in the coming years, officials said.

School officials are preparing for the growth by looking at both short- and long-term options:

  • Temple ISD purchased land for a planned elementary that could open in fall 2023.
  • Academy ISD voters next month will consider a bond proposal for improvements, including a new high school campus.
  • A new elementary school that opened in Jarrell two years ago has now exceeded capacity, an example of the need cited in the district’s upcoming $113.3 million bond proposal.
  • Two districts said portable buildings will be used to temporarily accommodate expanding populations.

Temple ISD School Board President Dan Posey said he is excited for the future growth in Temple ISD.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen growth in TISD in decades,” he said when a recent demographic report showed a projected boom that is expected to result from planned housing developments.

“We’ll definitely need it to make decisions about future and immediate needs for our district.”

Temple ISD

The Temple Independent School District is expected to have more than 9,700 students by the 2025-26 academic school year as more than 6,900 future housing lots are planned within its boundaries.

Bob Templeton, vice president for Templeton Demographics, said his firm antici- pates this growth could bring in 600 new homes annually in about five years — expansion that would impact zoning for Raye-Allen Elementary and Kennedy-Powell Elementary the greatest.

“We do expect (new homes per year) to go from 200 to 600 in about five years … and Raye-Allen Elementary and Kennedy-Powell Elementary will see the largest increase in new single-family homes,” Templeton said during Temple ISD’s board meeting March 8.

Although this growth is dependent on a couple of factors, Templeton stressed it is just a matter of when.

“Should there be some delays — just due to the timing of getting these new developments on the ground — then it could take a little bit longer, but you are headed to 11,200 students by 2030 … and I think this region as a whole is really ripe for growth,” he said.

Average prices for new homes in Temple ISD also are expected to rise in the coming years.

“It was about $150,000 in 2010 and it was about $210,000 this past year in 2020,” Templeton said. “I suspect it’s going to keep going up at a healthy pace and (eventually) reach $250,000. … But even that is still affordable compared to what the rest of the state is paying.”

These newly built homes could push enrollment at some Temple ISD campuses past their “total functional capacity,” and Bobby Ott, Temple ISD’s superintendent, highlighted how there likely will be an immediate need for campus expansion in the district’s southeast quadrant — a region where Temple ISD already has purchased land.

Ott told the Telegram in May that a new elementary school, which would take 18 to 24 months to complete, could come to the southeast quadrant in the fall of 2023. However, that timeline is dependent on how Central Texas continues to respond to COVID-19.

“As far as planning goes … there will be a new (bond-funded) elementary school in the near future for the southeast quadrant, plus looking at Kennedy-Powell Elementary and expanding classrooms there,” Ott said at the March 8 meeting.

Temple ISD understands the power in bringing additional capacity to existing campuses through permanent wings and more classrooms. Ott said incorporating this strategy at its elementary schools would give Temple ISD ample time between bonds.

“You could buy some time (doing that), and then the next bond could maybe be in 2023 or 2024 … depending on how many classrooms you add to Kennedy-Powell Elementary and Western Hills Elementary,” Ott said. “That’s just something to look at and just to kind of put in your mind.”

Belton ISD

On Monday, the Belton ISD school board also signaled immediate preparations for its growing enrollment, when it approved $1,060,000 in funding for five portable buildings that will be installed at two of its elementary campuses.

Tarver Elementary, 7949 Stonehollow Drive in Temple, and Chisholm Trail Elementary, 1082 S. Wheat Road in Belton, will utilize the portable buildings that will be purchased with surplus funds from 2017’s $149.7 million bond election.

Belton ISD Superintendent Matt Smith said the $1 million expense — which is expected to cover the cost for the portables, related infrastructure, technology and furniture — is a temporary solution for addressing rising student enrollment.

“We have growth in the north and the south of our district, and are only in the second year of new attendance boundaries,” Smith said. “We’d like to keep kids at those home campuses. When you add a new school, you have to change attendance boundaries. We want to avoid multiple changes, and portable buildings will help us do that in the short term.”

Templeton Demographics estimates Belton ISD will grow by 3,000 students in the next five years — of which, elementary campuses are expected to contribute by an average increase of 366 students annually.

Belton ISD is forecasted to have 15,627 students for the 2025-26 school year, and an 18,427 enrollment for the 2030-31 school year.

Michelle Box from Templeton Demographics said these projections can be credited to the booming housing market in the Temple-Belton area.

She cited how new homes sales have tripled in just the last six years.

Officials are examining the effect the projected student enrollment will have on the district.

“Our job over the next few months will be to take this demographic information and pair it with our facilities assessment so we can make the appropriate decisions moving forward in a long-range facility plan,” Smith said.

Salado ISD

Although Salado ISD’s last demographics study was conducted in 2017, Superintendent Michael Novotny said Templeton Demographics’ enrollment projections have remained mostly accurate.

“It’s been a few years, but we used Templeton Demographics … but it did a 10-year enrollment projection,” Novotny told the Telegram. “Up until this year, we’ve always been real close to or even a little bit ahead of those projections.”

Novotny highlighted how this year’s enrollment figures fell short of its 2,122 projected enrollment in response to COVID-19 — a trend he said many school districts across the country have experienced.

However, he expects enrollment to exceed its projected figure of 2,198 for the 2021-22 school year.

“I do think that we’ll see that growth again this coming year … but it probably will exceed (2,198) because we’re seeing more and more housing developments,” Novotny said. “In fact, one big one is across (from) our new middle school.”

That development, which is situated southwest of the intersection of West Village Road and Williams Road, is an 86.7-acre property designated for mixed-use that is expected to bring in 175 new homes.

In August 2020, Alderman Amber Preston Dankert said it was important for residents to understand there is no way to prevent this kind of growth in Salado.

“There’s some retail and there’s higher-end housing that we’re looking at,” she said. “It’s important for our residents to understand that there’s no way to prevent growth like this in our village, and so we have to manage it properly … and from what I’ve seen so far, it looks like it’s appropriately managed.”

The average lot size will be just under a third of an acre, and the project will include 4.9 acres of private park land — some of which would be developed for recreational amenities.

“I think this developer is a high-quality developer, who has a good reputation in this area. … So we think it’s a good program that they brought to the table and we’ll see where it goes. We’re kind of excited to see it happen,” Village Administrator Don Ferguson said in August when the Salado Board of Aldermen approved the development’s concept plan and agreement.

Salado ISD can expect 2,592 students by the 2025-26 school year, according to Templeton Demographics.

Jarrell ISD

Igo Elementary in the Jarrell Independent School District opened in August 2019 to accommodate hundreds of students.

But in just two years, the campus already has exceeded its enrollment projections — growth that could see the school exceed 100 percent capacity by the 2021-22 school year, according to Templeton Demographics.

With Jarrell ISD expected to add 750 to 900 homes annually over the next five years, Superintendent Toni Hicks — hired by trustees nearly four months ago — said she began preparing for a spike in student enrollment on her first day.

“A lot of the work that we’ve done in the four months that I’ve been here is planning for the future … because as a fast-growth district we want to make sure we’re planning accordingly, so that all of our students have access to all of the programs that are provided in Jarrell ISD,” Hicks said.

Luckily for Hicks, she is no stranger to fast-growth districts.

“As a principal (in Round Rock ISD), we opened a new school with a little under 900 kids, and when I left we were at 1,800 students,” she said. “So I very much know the challenges, but also the rewards that come with fast growth.”

Hicks emphasized how Jarrell ISD’s upcoming May 1 bond election for $113.3 million would help accommodate the district’s ever-growing enrollment.

“A large part of this bond is reactive,” she said. “That means that we have a number of students coming to our district and we need to make sure that their needs are being provided for them. But some of (the bond) is also proactive; because we know 10 years from now what our district is going to look like based on demographer reports.”

That demographics report — conducted by Templeton Demographics on behalf of Jarrell ISD — shows that district enrollment will surpass 4,500 students for the 2025-26 school year and 6,700 for the 2030-31 school year.

During the 2019-20 school year, Jarrell ISD’s enrollment reached 2,102. If current projections hold true, the district would experience an approximate 116.8 percent increase in student enrollment by 2025-26.

“It seems like overnight I see a new house every day,” she said. “Lots of houses are being built in our neighborhoods … but that means that we have to have the facilities to accommodate for our new students enrolling with us.”

The proposed $113.3 million bond, which will be broken into two separate propositions on the ballot, includes budgeting for a third elementary school for up to 800 students, and additions to its middle school and high school campuses — improvements necessary as Jarrell Elementary is expected to exceed 100 percent capacity for 2022-23, Jarrell Middle School for 2023-24 and Jarrell High for 2024-25, according to Templeton Demographics.

Under the district’s current plan, Jarrell Middle School would undergo a 12-classroom addition with cafeteria and library expansions, while Jarrell High would add 12 classrooms and expand its cafeteria, library, locker room and weight room.

“This would increase the capacity at our middle school, which would hold us off on having to build a future middle school right away,” Hicks said. “This would be the same (case) at our high school. This would push our high school up to allowing for 1,258 students … and by doing so pushes out the need for another high school.”

Although $113.3 million is a large sum, Hicks highlighted how it would not impact residents’ existing property taxes.

“If approved by voters, this bond proposal will not increase the district’s tax rate,” she said. “In fact, the Jarrell ISD debt service tax rate, by law, can’t be increased beyond the existing 0.50 cent rate.”

Instead, additional revenue would increase by incoming homes and businesses that will be added to the tax rolls.

“More homes will generate more revenue to pay back that ($113 million) fund,” Hicks said.

Academy ISD

Portable buildings as a temporary solution for growing enrollment are not an unfamiliar strategy to Academy ISD, as the district approved purchasing a set of the buildings last year.

“The portables were ordered in January to accommodate expected growth within the district,” Academy ISD Superintendent Billy Harlan told the Telegram in July. “We will utilize them in any way to better our services to our community.”

The purchase followed Academy ISD’s February 2020 decision to call for a bond issue — funding that would allow the district to construct a new high school campus.

“The AISD Board of Trustees voted to approve the calling of a bond for the purpose of building the new Academy High School,” the district said in a Facebook post at the time.

“The Templeton Demographic Group presented in January and laid the foundation for our thoughts on the growth that we are expecting. These are exciting times for AISD as we make plans to address our projected enrollment growth.”

Troy ISD

In 2019, Troy ISD voters approved an $18.25 million school bond issue that called for campus improvements with the district dealing with student growth.

District officials said the funds were necessary to pay for additions and renovations to Troy High School and Mays Elementary, and improvements at Raymond Mays Middle and Troy Elementary schools.

High school improvements involved turning the library into new classrooms, building a new library and building 10 entirely new classrooms.

Troy ISD Superintendent Neil Jeter said the board worked closely with Templeton Demographics to estimate how much the student body will grow in the future.

“We pledge our commitment to continue to be good stewards as we move forward with design and construction,” Jeter said when the bond issue was approved in 2019. “This is an important step forward for our students and the entire community. We are excited about the future of Troy ISD.”

Telegram staff writer Shane Monaco contributed to this report.