We hear it all the time: DeSoto County is a growing place to be.
People are moving into DeSoto County at a steady rate. Many of them come to get out of the city, even if they work in the city. The new I-269 corridor is expected to accelerate that growth.
Families come to grow in a thriving area and they also want to take advantage of the high level of education provided by the DeSoto County School District (DCS), the state’s largest public school district at more than 34,500 students.
One area where the growth has been high and the education is rated high is in the Lewisburg attendance zone, where all grades are basically located in one location, off I-269 at Craft Road. While DCS has been trying to keep up with the student growth by adding classrooms, Supt. Cory Uselton said it has come to the point where it is time to not just add rooms, but build a new school.
The school district learned Thursday, Aug. 15, that the state Department of Education has approved DCS plans to build a new middle school for the Lewisburg attendance zone.
Seeing the need, Uselton said the district has been working toward Thursday's announcement for about two years.
Plans are in place to not locate the middle school on the same campus as the other buildings, however. The district has eyed a location about six miles to the south, on land south of the Coldwater River on the west side of state Highway 305. Purchase of the 77-acre site is expected to be completed later this month. Uselton described the location as being in the center of the school zone.
While the north side of the Coldwater River is prone to flooding, Uselton said the south side, where the new building is to be built, is not.
“The school will be built to the south of the 100-year flood plain,” Uselton said. “The new school’s distance from the Coldwater River flood plain will approximate the same distance as the current middle school’s distance from the Camp Creek flood plain.”
It is expected the $29 million middle school would be ready for the start of classes there in August 2021. Lewisburg parents were informed of the news Thursday in a communication sent from the school district.
A major reason to locate somewhere other than the current site is to alleviate growing traffic congestion with parents and students coming in during the morning when youngsters come to class and again in the afternoon when they go home.
When the new building is finished, the tentative plans are for Lewisburg Primary School to house kindergarten and first grade. Lewisburg Elementary School have second and third grade, and the current middle school will become Lewisburg Intermediate School with grades four and five. The new Lewisburg Middle School will have grades five-through-eight and the current high school building will continue as a grades 9-12 campus.
Hernando and Olive Branch have the same grade progression of five schools in their school careers.
“The current Lewisburg school zone has experienced a 13 percent increase in enrollment since 2016, and demographers project a similar growth to continue throughout the upcoming decade,” Uselton wrote parents. “The current Lewisburg primary-through-middle schools have all expanded within the last three years but are all still near or at capacity.”
DCS continually monitors its growth and projects out to ascertain where future needs may be. For instance, in 2018 the school district asked for a demographic study on population trends throughout the county with projections to include 2026. Officials also monitor school enrollments and housing trends district-wide on a monthly basis.
The cost of the new middle school is being covered through a financing mechanism called Certificates of Participation, money the district has available to pay for the project without raising taxes, Uselton pointed out.
The decision to build a new middle school also comes as a means to avoid rezoning that part of the district for the immediate future, or adding a new school zone, which would mean multiple buildings constructed and would likely require a district-wide bond issue to be passed.
Students in K-5 grades now will be in three buildings instead of two and that should also reduce the need for added classroom additions in those facilities. Lewisburg High School becomes the only campus that may need added classrooms in the future with continuing growth in the community.
In the communication with the parents, Uselton pointed out the new middle school will be built to allow for future expansion and have a blueprint and areas comparable to the current building.
Uselton said the district will not need to hire new teachers as present staff will be reassigned. Present administration plans will have a new principal hired for Lewisburg Elementary. Current elementary school principal Sherry Anderson will transition to the intermediate school at the start of the 2021-22 year, while Brad Meadows will move into the new facility and lead Lewisburg Middle School.
The district superintendent also stated officials have spoken with the county Sheriff’s Department about school resource officers.
“The Sheriff’s Department plans to have a school resource officer assigned to the new Lewisburg Middle School campus in August of 2021,” Uselton said.
With the decision to construct away from the current campus area, Lewisburg joins the other attendance zones that have at least one school not located on the main campus.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.