School Board discusses Freeport population growth and school development options at workshop

A SAMPLE LAYOUT of Hammock Bay school site. (Courtesy of the Walton County School District)

Story by JENNA BAILEY

On Oct. 15, the Walton County School Board (WCSB) held a workshop meeting in the South Walton High School media center to discuss potential Freeport school development options in order to provide more space for the continuously growing student population. The workshop began with discussion regarding general Freeport population growth and information on projected new developments in the Freeport area. The data on these projected developments were provided to the school district by the city of Freeport planning department. 

These projected developments are: Oakfield Estates (16 dwellings), Verandas (ongoing, 294 dwellings), Hammock Bay (550 dwellings), Live Oak Cottages (10 dwellings), Owl’s Head Farms (601 dwellings), Hammock Bay Apartments (280 dwellings), Marina Village Phase II (68 dwellings), and Mill Cottages (98 dwellings).

Freeport Student Growth & Enrollment— A comparison of the May 2012 Freeport student population to October 2019 student numbers shows 57% student growth at Freeport Elementary School (FES), a 51% increase at Freeport Middle School (FMS), and a 52% increase at Freeport High School (FHS). 

Current Enrollment — There is a total of 846 students at FES. This consists of 52 Pre-K students; 185 kindergarten students; 156 first grade students; 154 second grade students;  152 third grade students; and 147 fourth grade students. FES has 787 student stations and is 107% at capacity.  At FMS, there is a total of 584 students currently enrolled. This consists of 147 fifth graders; 139 sixth graders; 139 seventh graders; and 159 eighth graders.  FMS has 732 student stations and is 80% at capacity. At FHS, there a total of 491 students currently enrolled. This consists of 139 ninth graders; 129 tenth graders; 117 eleventh graders; and 106 twelfth graders. FHS is currently 66% at capacity. There are a total of 1,921 students (grades pre-k through 12) in Freeport.

Educational Impacts — Next the board discussed “Accountability School Grades” in regards to educational impacts. State accountability measures (school grade components) will be considered to determine grade spans for current and future schools. Walton County School District (WCSD).

Freeport Properties — WCSD Freeport properties include FES, FMS, FHS, Freeport Transportation property, and Hammock Bay property.  

A GRAPH CHART showing the population growth in Freeport over the years. (Courtesy of the Walton County School District)

Hammock Bay Property — Land shall be used only as site to construct a Freeport Elementary School or Freeport Middle School. Construction must begin by May 21, 2028. Grantee agrees that it will not commence construction of an elementary school or middle school at any other location in the Freeport area prior to commencing construction of a Freeport Elementary or Middle School. 

Grantor and grantee agree the term “Freeport Elementary School” shall mean a public school attended by students in approximately grades Pre-K, Kindergarten, and grades 1-4. It is also agreed that the term “Freeport Middle School” shall mean a public school attended by students in approximately grades 5-8. Under no circumstances can the land be sold. The Hammock Bay property is land donated in 2013. The land consists of 30 acres and is located next to the Freeport Regional Sports Complex. 

Selection Process — A site selection committee was created and approved by the school board. Advertising process to receive offers of parcels for sale that meet educational specifications. The committee will then start the review process of parcels to ensure that the parcels meet Walton County’s Comprehensive Plan. 

During the workshop, the board also discussed a town hall survey taken at a community meeting which took place on October 10 at Freeport High School. According to the survey, 84% of attendees said FMS should be replaced while 14% of attendees said FES should be replaced. Regarding which location is preferred, 78% said Hammock Bay while 22% said to find a new location. For additional programming, 41% said Technical College while 22% Pre-K.