Pender County in need of additional schools as population grows

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PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — As more families move to Pender County, some schools are reaching capacity.

During a budget meeting Monday night, school administrators presented data showing a high rate of growth in the county. Between 2010 and 2019, Pender saw a 21 percent increase in population, ranking it among the top five counties in the state for growth.

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“You can compare us as far as percentile versus population with an area like Charlotte-Mecklenburg, that’s how fast we’re growing in Pender County,” said Superintendent Dr. Steven Hill. “So we definitely have to start planning toward the future.”

Hill says although the eastern part of the county is seeing the most growth, the influx isn’t limited to one area.

“It’s merging towards Burgaw, and so you’re starting to see areas grow that way,” Hill said. “And so those schools are getting very heavily populated and then there’s one-off schools that we have in the west who are at capacity almost themselves.”

Hill says all funding for new school infrastructure comes at the local level.

“If we’re going to build a school, we have to work closely with the county commissioners,” He said. “They’ve been very supportive, but it’s just difficult when you’ve got to spend millions of dollars of tax money, you have to have a lot of support.”

County Commission Chair George Brown says the process of planning and constructing new schools can take months or years, and tens of millions of dollars for each school.

“I think we’re looking at about a little less than 10,000 students for this year and what’s expected for next year,” Brown said. “We have no choice but to accommodate those students, which is ultimately going to mean that there will be some new schools in the future.”

Pender County Schools administrators did not get into specific numbers during Monday night’s meeting for new school construction. Hill says their budget request focused more on salaries and maintaining existing schools.

County commissioners will continue holding budget meetings and determine how much funding is available for the school district and other county departments.