By: Shane Ersland, The Portland News
PORTLAND — Gregory-Portland ISD school board members were updated Tuesday on future enrollment increase projections and discussed some concerns regarding the availability of housing to support such growth.
Dr. Arnold Oates, president of Texas School Planning, Inc. — based in Tyler — was authorized by the school board to research the district’s master plan in relation to land use and development in the area. He presented related information to board members Tuesday, including projected enrollment increases. Oates said the district is expected to see an average increase of 133 students per year, and will include more than 6,000 students by the 2024-25 school year. The district currently maintains an enrollment in excess of 4,000 students.
Oates said the district’s current facilities may not be sufficient to support the increased enrollment.
“The high school principal tells me she’s pretty full right now,” Oates said. “As we look at capacity for the elementary schools, it’s going to be pretty tight.”
Oates said middle school enrollment is expected to increase as well, and the district might have to consider building a second facility for middle school students.
“Do you want a middle school with 1,400 students, or do you want two middle schools with 800 students?” he asked. “At all three levels, you’ll need to be making some decisions.”
Oates said that the birth rate in San Patricio County has decreased, but that growth will continue due to migration, new industries and businesses moving into the area, and the workers that will be constructing them.
“You’re getting more people moving in,” Oates said. “The peak number of construction workers here will be 5,200 in 2015. My concern is that I don’t know that you have buildings that are going to keep up with that.”
School officials expressed concern regarding whether there would be housing available — and whether the necessary infrastructure was in place — to support the district’s growth. Superintendent Dr. Paul Clore said he has spoken with Portland city officials about the installation of infrastructure in the city.
“The city has made it clear to us that it will be up to developers to put in infrastructure for developments they plan to build,” Clore said.
Oates said the city’s current infrastructure may not be able to support future growth.
“The concern I have right now is, there’s not a lot of infrastructure in place,” he said. “You’re looking at a 25 percent (population) increase over a 10-year period.”
Board member Gilbert Cortinas asked what the housing outlook in Gregory currently is.
“They are trying to remove dilapidated houses, and then maybe build new ones,” Oates said. “The mayor said there may be land for apartment units. But there is nothing in the works right now for anything like that. You also have some families on that land that don’t want to sell. And that land may be sold for industrial purposes, rather than housing.”
Clore noted that the price of housing in Portland is often too expensive for district employees.
“Your G-P ISD teachers have the highest starting salary in our region, but those teachers can’t afford to buy houses (here),” he said. “We don’t think the greater community understands that. This is going to become an ever-increasing concern if we cannot develop enough housing quickly enough, and make it affordable, and in some cases, make it multi-family.”
Oates noted that city officials often prefer to develop single-family housing in Portland.
“They need to be thinking about a real mixture of housing,” he said. “There needs to be affordable, multi-family, three-bedroom units being built.”
It may be helpful for school officials to express their housing concerns to city officials, Oates said.
“They said they already have enough apartments, and want more single-family,” he said. “You might want to meet with them. You may want to look at what they’re doing in Ingleside and Aransas Pass. They’re moving very fast, and approving apartments.”
It would be disadvantageous for people who are moving to the Coastal Bend to choose to live in neighboring communities because they cannot find affordable housing in Portland, Clore said.
“Developers are telling us this is one of the hardest communities to establish development,” he said. “They then go to outlying communities to set up their development. Then, those communities get the benefit of that enrollment growth.”
Cortinas said there needs to be a greater selection of affordable housing in the area.
“It concerns me that they just want to put $250,000-400,000 homes up,” he said. “What’s that going to do to the tax rate, if they just want to build wealthy homes?”
Oates said he will have a final report for the board in 3-4 weeks.
Click here to read more stories about San Patricio County