Overcrowded schools lead to land search

By HASKEL BURNS,

With enrollment at 4,135 in the Petal School District, school officials are searching for land on which to build another school – more than likely an elementary school – to accommodate the increasing number of students in the district.

“Just with our growing numbers and the consistency that we’re seeing from kindergartners coming in every year, it just puts us in a position that we’ve got to look sooner rather than later to start this process,” district superintendent Matt Dillon said. “We want to make sure that we have appropriate facilities for our students and staff, for safety and a good educational environment – all the things we need to be successful.

“So we’re just starting the initial process of looking for land, and trying to see what’s the best situation for our district as we move forward.”

A large part of the district’s population is at Petal High School, which is currently home to approximately 1,230 students. Because of the large number of students there, five high school classes are currently meeting in a building behind Petal Elementary School, with other classes being held at field houses behind the high school.

“The (high school) classes at the elementary school are in a secure, blocked-off, separate location on that campus, away from the elementary students,” Dillon said. “We have doors and other ways that (those classes) don’t have access to the elementary hallways – those are blocked off.”

Although it’s too early in the process to know exactly where a new school could be located, Dillon said school officials are working diligently to find a suitable location. Bonds would not be required to purchase the land, but a bond issue would be necessary to build a new facility.

“We’re actively looking and searching for land that would have the amount of acreage that’s needed to have a two-grade school,” Dillon said. “I don’t have a specific timeline; we just have to get the right fit based on the criteria and things that we’re looking at from a district standpoint.”

The district’s large population also will prevent officials from allowing students from outside the district to attend Petal schools.

“That has not been discussed, as we don’t have the space to honor that,” Dillon said. “We’re looking at servicing kids that live in our school district.”