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Area private school, higher education options on the rise

As area student enrollment hits record highs, private school and public higher education facilities are expanding to meet the growing college preparatory and workforce needs of Tomball and Magnolia students.

Several area private schools—such as Rosehill Christian and Concordia Lutheran High schools—broke ground last year on building expansions designed to offer more courses for students in 2016.

In addition, the Lone Star College System has made progress on several projects that were part of the system’s $485 million bond approved by voters in November 2014, including $35.4 million in projects at LSC-Tomball, the opening of the new Creekside Center in December and the proposed $23 million-plus Magnolia Center.

“We are really sensitive to taxpayer needs and community needs,” LSCS Chancellor Steve Head said. “I live here too—I’m a taxpayer. We are very careful in the programs we choose because we want to make sure there are jobs at the end of it. The irony of what’s going on right now [is that] as the economy slows down a little bit, our enrollments are actually up.”

Private school expansions

Along FM 2920 in Tomball, Rosehill Christian School broke ground Oct. 10 on its $7.7 million two-story multiplex building. The building will include 12 classrooms, office space, locker rooms and performing arts space upon completion by Dec. 1 of this year, Head of School Dean Unsicker said.

Since 2011, school officials have purchased 8 acres for future phases of development over the next few years, Unsicker said.

Future phases to come in the next five years include a new two-story $9.4 million programming building with additional labs as well as space for art, performing arts, band and choir classes and a $3 million chapel at the school entrance. Other improvements include $2 million in projects to increase parking, reroute plumbing and driveways and build a terraced area for students.

“Right now, our high school is pretty much in portable [buildings], so [those students will] go in this multiplex building,” Unsicker said. The actual portables will be filled with middle school kids and allow us to have more room for our lower school kids. When the portables go away, it will be when we build the programming building.”

Rosehill Christian School has set new enrollment records in each of the past three years, reaching an enrollment of 481 students this school year, Unsicker said.

“Not only are a lot of people moving out this way, but I think a lot of people are returning to traditional values and looking for schools that are Christian-based and also offer strong academics,” said Sherry Johnson, Rosehll Christian director of admissions and recruitment.

East of FM 2920 in Tomball, Concordia Lutheran HighSchool is set to unveil its new science and education wing Feb. 20. An art room and seven additional classrooms will be added on the first floor while four science labs and a 3,000-square-foot multiuse  area will be available on the second floor, Head of School Joel Bode said.

In the coming years, CLHS plans to add more parking spaces, a new baseball diamond on the back side of Tinkin Road, a second gym, a fine arts center and additional athletic facilities mostly on  20 acres on the south side of the campus, Bode said.

Families moving to Tomball, Magnolia, Spring and Cy-Fair is the primary factor driving a surge in CLHS enrollment and a need to expand facilities and course offerings over the last four years.

“Many of our programs are competitive, and [students] want to be part of things of that are successful,” Bode said. “As a Christian school, people are looking for that kind of experience.”

LSCS enhancements

Although LSCS has hit a record high enrollment of more than 82,000 students, LSC-Tomball is conducting campuswide research to determine how to continue increasing its enrollment and the amount of contact, or credit, hours per student. Recommendations by campus staff are due March 1.

As of Jan. 18, enrollment  at the Tomball campus reached 8,322 students, which was an increase of 373 students since fall 2015, LSC-Tomball President Lee Ann Nutt said. However, the Tomball campus has seen an overall decline in students since reaching a record high of 12,360 students in 2011.

In 2012, the University Park campus opened a few miles south along Hwy. 249 and may have contributed to the decline  in enrollment—to 9,454 students—during the same year at the Tomball campus, Nutt said.

“The average number of classes a student takes in the college system is 3.2—our [average] is 1.9,” Nutt said. “If we could close that gap, a lot of our enrollment issues will be solved. Our contact hours are down, and that’s what we get funded on. It’s great to have more students, but we need more students taking more classes.”

At the Feb. 4 LSCS meeting, board members will have an opportunity to approve the final design plans for the 20,000-square-foot third floor build-out of the health and science building at the Tomball campus, Nutt said. The build-out will allow the pharmacy technician program to become the second community college program in the state to offer IV therapy classes and enable the surgical technician program to double from 12 to 24 students, she said.

Because of the oil industry decline, plans for a 15,000-square-foot oil and gas training center on 18 acres near Humble Road and Hwy. 249 have been delayed from its original December 2016 completion date until fall 2017, Nutt said. LSC-Tomball has several local corporate oil partnerships in the works to provide multimillion-dollar materials for the rig, she said.

The 65,000-square-foot Magnolia Center, which is in the planning stage, will also be funded as part of the bond package approved by voters in 2014. The center was originally slated to open in fall 2016, but it has been delayed because of extended negotiations for a land site, said Steve Scheffler, immediate-past executive director of college relations at LSC-Montgomery.

LSC-Montgomery is overseeing the construction and programming at the campus, Scheffler said.

“This is a priority for LSC to finalize the location and move the project forward,”
he said.

Magnolia City Administrator Paul Mendes said one of the sites in consideration for the Magnolia Center is the newly annexed 32-acre Buckgrass Stables at Spur 149 and FM 1488. Mendes said it is likely the center will now open in fall 2017. Because LSCS is in negotiation, Scheffler said he could not confirm any potential sites.

“Once the land is finalized, we will reconvene our Magnolia Center Community Advisory Group, which met twice during the 2014-15 academic year,” Scheffler said. “This group will help guide and shape the center so it meets community needs.”