The Lakeland School System is making moves to prepare for two new schools.
At a special called meeting Tuesday, July 27, the district’s Board of Education unanimously approved options for two separate sites totaling $1.6 million that will likely be used for a new elementary school, a middle school and possibly central office space.
In November 2017, the LSS board committed $1 million from its fund balance to identify and purchase a site that would be suitable for the district’s next elementary school.
“Since then we’ve had conversations about what kind of grade band that may look like and have contemplated rather than spilt grade levels off into different schools, we may have a model something like perhaps a K-2 school and then perhaps a (grades) 3-5 or even a 3-6,” LSS Superintendent Ted Horrell said.
For five years the district has been evaluating potential land with the assistance of Dr. Jim Mitchell, founder of Southern Educational Strategies LLC.
During that time, officials have had serious discussions with at least five landowners or developers and done some due diligence on the properties to determine if they would be appropriate, Horrell said.
They have learned that suitable sites in Lakeland are in short supply.
One of the two sites they agreed to proceed on Tuesday is on Old Brownsville Road, adjacent to the Lakeland Preparatory School site. The 25-acre site technically consists of two parcels, one of which has a home on it.
He thinks the house on the site could be converted into a small central office for the district, which currently uses offices at Lakeland City Hall. Conversion costs are estimated at $150,000 to $200,000. There is a possibility that long-term the home could be torn down and a larger central office for the district could be built in its place.
The overall cost of the 25 acres is about $933,000. LSS will purchase an option for $15,000 to buy the property from Dennis J. Demo Revocable Living Trust and will have 60 days to complete due diligence.
“I think it’s just amazing that we actually have the opportunity to purchase land adjacent to our current property,” board member Michelle Childs said.
The second site totals 23 acres within The Meadows planned development across from Lakeland City Hall on U.S. 70 east of where New Seed Tick Road would be extended. Cost of the Renaissance Land Investments LLC property is roughly $644,000.
“If everything goes the way we hope it goes, then we would move forward with the closing without further board action,” Horrell said.
The site has mostly been cleared already.
“There’s no piece of property that’s perfect,” said Mitchell, who has been involved with the construction of 22 new schools across Shelby County. “At this point, I do believe that both of these have the potential to be sites that could be developed for future schools that Lakeland will need.”
The cost of the two sites would total $1.6 million and would leave more than $4 million in the district’s fund balance, or reserve fund.
“I think for that long-term vision, for that 15-, 20-, 25-year vision for Lakeland School System, this is the right thing to do, and I think future school boards and superintendents will be glad that we made that investment at this time,” Horrell said.
He estimates the district will need the new elementary school in the next five years.
“We have always said that the Lakeland Prep master plan, long-term, was that it be built so that when growth demanded it, we could easily flip the switch where it was a comprehensive stand-alone high school, and then at that time a new middle school would be built,” Horrell said.
He stressed that the Lakeland Prep school will be able to serve high school and middle school students for a long time, maybe 15 years.
“We’ve got to be thinking that far down the road. We’ve got to be thinking 15 to 20 years because if we wait until we need that middle school … we may be putting ourselves in a position where to make it happen would require a really significant investment in infrastructure that might not be there,” Horrell said.