St. Johns County is building schools as fast as it can

Published on October 26, 2023 at 3:55 pm

As fast as St. Johns County is growing, the school district expects to build the equivalent of a new school district in coming years.

Schools in the works will create capacity for 20,692 additional students over the next three years — more than some entire districts in Florida, said Superintendent Tim Forson.

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“That’s a more explosive window than I think we’ve ever had when you’re talking about three years back and three years ahead, and 20,000 students, that’s bigger than many districts in Florida, so in six years we’re gonna build another school district,” Forson said.

Forson spoke as School Board members and county commissioners met Thursday to discuss plans for managing the crush of new students.

Three schools are under construction and two are in the planning stages, Forson said — all in the northern portion of the county:

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  • The two scheduled to open first will be K-8 schools serving about 1,500 students each. One school will be in the Shearwater community off County Road 16A and the other in the Beacon Lakes area off County Road 210. Both are scheduled to open in August of 2024.
  • Further down the line, a new K-8 school in the early stages of construction will serve the Rivertown community on State Road 13. The school district says this school will eventually become a middle school once more elementary schools are built in the Rivertown area, but initially, it will serve about 1,100 students. This school is expected to be completed by August 2025.
  • The two schools in the planning stages are K-8 schools that will serve the Southwest Nocatee area and Silverleaf communities. Each is expected to serve 1,500 students and is scheduled to open in August 2026.
  • There is a sixth school project for the county over the next five years and that one will take place in Hastings. The school district says it will remodel the old Hastings High School, where it will serve Pre-K and adult education students. That remodel is set to open in August 2026.
  • School district officials estimate the earliest a new high school could start to be built would be around 2027 to 2028.

Forson said construction costs have gone up over the last three years. The biggest hurdle in building schools is the flow of money and state regulations, he said.

For the most part, state revenue sources have dried up, so funding mainly comes from local sources, Forson said. The four main local sources are a capital outlay millage rate, school impact fees from individual communities, school concurrency proportionate mitigation payments and the half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2015.

“Our cash flow is really important to St. Johns County because if that wasn’t there, we would be in a pickle,” he said. “I mean, we get concerned because we need more schools and we’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to continue to respond and make that happen. But that’s a pretty good setup compared to some of our own neighboring counties in Florida.”

To help speed up the process of building new schools from the state level, state Sen. Travis Hutson, who spoke at the meeting, says his team is in the process of putting together a measure that is designed to cut red tape in the process.   

“It is not ready for prime time, so I don’t want to get into super details, but I can tell you, we are going to make sure that the dollars flow freely so that you can build schools faster, quickly and more efficient,” Hutson said.

The measure from his team is part of a greater education deregulation proposal that is being drafted by state senators in Tallahassee before the legislative session that begins in January.  

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Steven Ponson has six years of experience covering news in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. Prior to arriving on the First Coast, Steven also worked in radio in Orlando. He attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a degree in radio and television. Steven has been a reporter, producer, anchor and board operator. Outside of work, Steven loves to watch sports, cook delicious cajun food (as any good Louisiana native does) and spend time outdoors.

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