Hammers resound throughout a China Spring neighborhood as construction workers build homes off of Tree Lake Drive. Red sold signs sit on the edge of every lot on the block.
Construction has become a staple of China Spring neighborhoods as families flood into the area looking for affordable homes in the well-performing China Spring Independent School District.
And while China Spring Superintendent Marc Faulkner said he welcomes the growth, if it continues at its current rate, the district likely will issue a new bond to build more schools within the next few years.
“This will totally change the landscape, because we hit capacity at our campuses at year five,” Faulkner said, referring to growth projections. “We will be restructuring the district somehow to meet our needs.”
China Spring ISD has four campuses: its elementary school, intermediate school, middle school and high school.
Enrollment sits at about 2,600 students, and a recent demographic study for the district projects it will grow to 3,900 students by 2026, a 50 percent increase in 10 years.
Between 2010 and 2015, the district’s enrollment grew by less than 8 percent, according to the study. In the past year alone, the district grew by more than 5 percent.
Real estate agent Ruth Garrett, who specializes in the China Spring area, said she’s astounded at how quickly China Spring houses are selling. As she sees it, the general economic growth and new development in the Waco area, combined with reasonable housing costs in the China Spring school district, are driving interest, Garrett said. The high performance of the school district is also a driving factor, she said.
The majority of homes in China Spring ISD are on single-family lots and range between $150,000 and $180,000, according to the city of Waco.
The district has met state academic standards for at least the past three years, with the campuses often earning high achievement distinctions in literacy or math.
“Developers cannot get approved fast enough for the residential homes,” Garrett said.
At least 10 housing developments in the district are under construction, according to the demographic study.
Waco’s inspection department reports issuing 1,254 building permits for single-family homes since 2013. The number of permits issued each year crept up by about 4 percent between 2013 and last year, from 366 to 380.
City officials are also feeling pressure to slow the growth in the section of the school district that lies in Waco city limits, since the roads leading to China Spring aren’t designed to handle much traffic. Though much of the school district is in unincorporated McLennan County and not managed by another municipal government, about half the district’s students live in Waco.
Clint Peters, Waco’s planning services director, said he is investigating ways to stabilize the growth in China Spring so traffic doesn’t clog China Spring Road or North River Crossing Road, the two main entry points into the area.
One option is to increase the minimum lot size by changing zoning regulations, he said.
The minimum lot size in China Spring is one-seventh of an acre, but Peters said the average sits at about a quarter of an acre.
Faulkner, the China Spring ISD superintendent, said he would be thrilled if the city rezones the remaining developments to increase the minimum lot size — anything to help stabilize the influx of students into the district.
“We’ll nearly take all the single-family homes you can give us,” he said. “Preferably at the right pace.”
China Spring’s elementary school is closest to its capacity of 1,000 students, with enrollment at 820.
According to the growth projections prepared for the district, the elementary school’s enrollment will grow an average of 45 students per year and reach 1,045 by 2020, Faulkner said.
The other campuses aren’t projected to grow as quickly but will hit capacity shortly after the elementary school if the projections hold.
Intermediate school enrollment is at 615 students and is expected to exceed its 750-student capacity by 2021.
Middle school enrollment is at about 400 students and is expected to be at its 500-student capacity by 2021.
High school enrollment is as 763 students and is expected to reach 953 students by 2021, slightly below its 1,000-student capacity.
Generally, the district’s existing facilities are designed for up to 250 students in each grade level.
Faulkner said the district’s first step in getting ready for its growth is to purchase land in preparation for a bond in May 2018. That will allow it to build a new school in time for the increased enrollment.
“We’ve passed a bond every five years for the past 20. I would love for us to make it until May of (2019), which puts us (at) six years instead of five,” he said. “But if these numbers hold right, we won’t be able to wait that long.”
According to China Spring ISD, 49% of its students live in the southeastern corner of the district, which lies mostly in the city of Waco (brown shaded area). Map images via Texas Education Agency and Google