As residential and commercial developments continue to flock to the Lake Houston area, local school districts are making immediate plans to address the influx of anticipated student enrollment.

New Caney ISD is no exception, as the district sits as one of the top five fastest-growing school districts in Texas, according to the Fast Growth School Coalition organization.

On Feb. 6, New Caney ISD trustees approved the call for a $200 million bond issue to be on the May 5 ballot to address the district’s growth. The bond proposal includes a third comprehensive high school, replacing two existing campuses and expanding one campus.

“[Calling a bond] has been on the surface for some time,” said Scott Powers, NCISD executive director of public relations. “We went through a long-range planning process over the last year, and it ultimately led to the board’s decision to call for a bond this May.”

While NCISD voters have approved six bond elections since 2000, the May election will feature the district’s largest bond issue to date. However, the district’s property tax rate of $1.67 per $100 valuation will not be affected by the bond issue, Powers said.

Enrollment Growth

The New Caney area has seen growth in recent years. In 2016, NCISD ranked 14th out of more than 60 Houston-area school districts for most new houses constructed, district officials said.

Rick Hatcher, Greater East Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce president, said the district’s success contributes to the region’s economic growth.

“Strong neighborhood schools can have a very positive influence on a community, such as the Porter-New Caney area,” Hatcher said. “A strong district will grow, which brings families into an area. This helps to positively increase property values and employment opportunities.”

More than 15,000 students are enrolled in NCISD, with enrollment increasing about 5-6 percent per year, Powers said. A high-growth scenario from a 2016 study conducted by the Population and Survey Analysts demographics firm showed NCISD’s student population could surpass 18,000 by 2020 and 24,000 students by 2025.

Superintendent Kenn Franklin said NCISD has seen high student growth for a decade but not as much residential and commercial growth until recently.

The completion of the Grand Parkway’s Segment G in 2016 contributed to NCISD’s growth, specifically around Woodridge Forest Middle School and the southeast portion of the district, which NCISD wants to address with the 2018 bond, Franklin said.

“Anytime you have two major thoroughfares, with the Grand Parkway crossing in the middle of your district and I-69, you’re going to have a lot of growth,” Franklin said.

Third high school

NCISD has proposed four projects in the bond package that will address the district’s needs in five to 10 years, Deputy Superintendent Matt Calvert said.

If approved, the bond will fund a third high school, replace Keefer Crossing Middle School and Porter Elementary School, and expand Woodridge Forest Middle School. The district would increase its capacity by 2,340 seats, with space to expand the third high school by 900 seats, NCISD officials said.

During the 2015 bond issue, elementary schools were the campuses in most need of new facilities, Franklin said. Now, with higher-priced homes entering the NCISD area, the district anticipates older residents moving in, bringing an increased enrollment in secondary level schools, he said.

“We don’t like to play catch up, so we’d really rather have the facilities ready to go when the growth gets here,” Franklin said. “We’re probably still looking for five years down the road before this high school opens.”

The third high school will alleviate the capacities of Porter and New Caney high schools. The two campuses are not at their recommended capacities, according to campus enrollment numbers, with student enrollments of 1,938 at PHS and 1,911 at NCHS. However, Franklin said the district wants to address future growth prior to overcrowding.

“We really focus on where we’re going to be, what the trends are saying, and what the demographers are saying about where we’re going to be,” he said.

The district estimates the new high school will cost $116 million, with an anticipated opening in August 2022. The new campus will open as a ninth-grade campus, then roll out the additional grades each following year, Calvert said.

“As we grow and as we add schools, it’s just a natural part of the process to shift stuff around,” he said. “We try to do it and impact as few kids as possible.”

Expanding, replacing campuses

If voters approve the bond, both the expansion on Woodridge Forest Middle School and the replacement of Keefer Crossing Middle School would be completed by August 2021 and are estimated to cost $12 million and $52 million, respectively. The replacement of Porter Elementary School is estimated to cost $26 million and to open in August 2024.

The district hopes to break ground on the two middle school projects in summer 2019, Calvert said.

“We picked those dates because that’s when those projected enrollments hit that tipping point of when we’ll need extra facilities,” Calvert said.

The 2018 bond proposal comes three years after NCISD voters approved a $173 million bond in 2015, which funded Dogwood and Brookwood elementary schools. Dogwood opened last August, while Brookwood will open this August.

Other projects from the 2015 bond included the Infinity Early College High School on the Lone Star College-Kingwood campus, and expansions of Porter and New Caney high schools. NCISD has also used previous bonds to construct the natatorium and Agricultural Center.

“Whether you have kids in the district or you don’t, it’s important to make sure that the next generation has opportunities to fulfill their dreams—and right now, public schools are where they can do that,” Franklin said.