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County planner discusses growth impact on schools

Xavier Smith • Jan 3, 2018 at 2:05 PM

Wilson County planning director Tom Brashear discussed the department’s impact and influence on rapid growth facing Wilson County Schools.

District leaders announced a work session planned for Feb. 1 that would focus on the creation of a capital outlay plan to accommodate the projected rapid growth in Wilson County.

Wilson County Schools spokesperson Jennifer Johnson said the district’s current capital outlay plan would be finished with the completion of a future Mt. Juliet high school on North Green Hill Road.

Brashear said last year projections show the county’s population would increase from the 2015-estimated population of 131,060 to at or near 222,490 people by 2040.

“In relation to the school system, our interaction has been limited to offering data or graphics so they can plan for a capital improvement project,” said Brashear, who said the department could do more if it’s asked.

Brashear said the department provides information to school consultants about developments under construction and planned population areas and more.

Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright said more than 10,000 units are planned throughout Wilson County in the next two to five years. Brashear said the county planning department handles development in the Wilson County jurisdiction, while each city planning department handles development in its respective city.

Johnson said the district typically plans for student population to grow 500-600 students annually, while Wright said if the district used an accepted formula and calculate 1.3 children per unit and apply to units approved throughout Wilson County, the district would face a critical shortage of classrooms in about two years.

Many parents and community members have questioned planning leaders’ unwillingness to simply not grant building permits until the school district “catches up” to the growth. Many planning and business personnel offered a rebuttal to the sentiment, claiming stifling growth could do more harm than good.

“In a growing county like ours, it’s my opinion that we’re always going to be a little bit behind the eight ball. Certainly, we’d be willing to listen to the school system if it screams ‘uncle’ and asked us to hold the reins a little bit,” Brashear said.

“If the county is not growing, then your only real revenue comes from property taxes and other taxes, like the wheel tax. If it’s growing, you’re at least getting some revenue from growth-driven taxes and fees like impact fees,” Brashear said.

Wilson County planners consider a project’s impact on infrastructure and emergency response above all other factors, as well its alignment with the county’s land-use plan, according to Brashear.

“What we know is that we are going to need additional elementary schools and an additional high school, potentially in the northeast quadrant of the county based on what is already being developed on [Highway] 231 North,” Wright said.

Wright said the dilemma comes with presenting what district leaders know to the Wilson County Commission – the district’s funding body – and the potential deliberation on the actual need of additional buildings, cost and how to fund the projects.

Johnson said it would make sense for the district to buy land for future growth now, but some obstacles and challenges need to be overcome for that process to work.

“I’m not sure how successful we would be at trying to get approval for projects that are two decades down the road. It’s also worth noting that there are inherent risks associated with long-range planning,” she said. “If recent history has taught us anything, it’s how quickly growth patterns can change.”

 

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