It’s no secret that our district is growing. Since October of 2011, we’ve welcomed more than 1,700 new students into our 27 schools.
That growth, which is expected to continue for years to come, will hit our kindergartens especially hard. Between new families moving into the district and existing families having more children, demographers expect a steady increase in young students over the coming years.
In a November 2018 report, demographer Dr. William Kendrick said the Pierce County birth rate is expected to remain above 11,000 per year for the foreseeable future.
That, combined with a projected growth in new housing, means Bethel will likely continue to be one of the fastest growing districts in the area.
Thankfully our voters saw what was coming and, earlier this year, decided to act by passing a construction bond that will build three brand new schools and expand and renovate several others.
Construction on Elementary #18 will begin in late March of 2020 with the goal of being ready for the start of the 2021/22 school year. We are also in the planning stages for Elementary #19, which is expected to be located in the Lipoma Firs community. A new Bethel High School should be completed and ready for students in 2023.
While those new and expanded schools will soften the blow of overcrowding, they won’t entirely fix the problem. All three of the new schools are expected to open at full capacity, and as more families arrive in the district we will once again be facing a challenge of overcrowding.
Based on housing estimates, Census data, and the latest student generation rates, Kendrick predicts that Bethel will see an increase of about 1,200 students over the next five years.
And it’s likely not a short-term problem. Forecast data for neighborhoods in and around the District from the Puget Sound Regional Council suggests that we will see continued population and housing growth between 2024 and 2038, according to Kendrick. That forecast predicts Bethel will add 400 housing units each year from now until 2038.