School district works to keep up with growth of Manatee County

As Manatee County continues to grow, the school district wants to make sure there's enough room for current and future students. 

Lakewood Ranch High Schools is one of the schools expanding in the county. Portables where students used to cram in will be replaced with a new two-story building. It will add 20 new classrooms and two labs to the campus. 

Lakewood Ranch High's Principal Dustin Dahlquist said the portables have been at the school for more than 20 years. 

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"It will be fantastic for our students and our teachers to get into a 21st century classroom with all of that technology and new desks that will afford us to change from whole groups to small learning groups," said Principal Dahlquist.

With just under 2,500 students at the high school, space has been running tight. 

"Lakewood Ranch has had more students than the brick and mortar facility has been able to accommodate for a while," said Manatee County School Superintendent Cynthia Saunders.

Other schools in the Manatee County School District are feeling the squeeze too. The district also broke ground on an additional classroom building for Freedom Elementary School.

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Additional renovations are underway at other schools and a new high school is being planned for East Manatee.

"If we didn’t have the half cent sales tax that this community passed a couple of years ago, we would not be afforded the opportunity to add the wings, to add the new schools or do the renovations to keep up with the growth in this region," said Saunders.

With 52,000 students, it's the largest enrollment in Manatee County schools history. The district is growing at more than 1,000 students a year, the equivalent of adding a brand new middle school every year.

"It is vitally important, so we are able to keep up with the needs of the community by offering them the top quality buildings and educational facilities that they are expecting," said Saunders.