Why do we need three new elementary schools?
Let’s examine the need and then the alternative approaches to addressing that need.
Today, 1 in 5 of our K-8 students is in a portable classroom. Schools built for 450 students today house 700, straining common spaces such as lunchrooms, hallways and libraries. Student population has grown far faster than anticipated, and the growth isn’t slowing.
Read more on the capacity crisis
Surrounding communities have invested steadily in new school facilities. Our elementary schools were built in the 1950′s and updated in the 1990′s, nearly twenty years ago. We need to keep our schools the reason families want to move here and stay.
Read more on property values and school comparisons
The Right Configuration
A great deal of study went into the proposed capital plan. Three ‘right sized’ elementary schools and a new middle school will facilitate educational excellence at a fiscally responsible cost.
Read more on the necessary, responsible and cost-effective planning criteria
What about building just one new elementary school?
Building just one new elementary school to make four total, instead of three new larger schools, would be one way to get kids out of portable class rooms and ease the load on common spaces. But operating costs for four elementary schools are higher than they would be for three larger schools, by about $450,000 per year. Operating funds are provided by the State based on headcount, so the effect would be to
- Burden the district with additional costs for facility operations
- Reduce flexibility over the 50-year planning horizon as enrollment fluctuates
- Fail to address the need to replace the existing three elementary schools in 12-15 years anyway
- Fail to address the overcrowding at IMS, unless the one new school were built to accommodate K-8 students, not just K-5.
Why not just expand the present three elementary schools?
Fire department site access, play space requirements, lot setback, and zoning standards for impermeable site coverage would require building up, not out. Building a second story over the existing 55-year-old structures would cost nearly the same as tearing them down and replacing them entirely, estimated to be 84% of the cost of new construction. In addition to new classrooms, common spaces would have to be expanded along with costs for needed seismic upgrades, foundation and structural enhancement to bear higher loads, and complete overhaul of mechanical systems. This would be a costly “band-aid” approach and would not be prudent in the long term.
Three “right-sized” schools are best
Elementary schools with 650 students are appropriate for a school district like ours. The three elementary school principals endorse and recommend a 3 school configuration for the district. We are successfully accommodating more than this number at West Mercer today, despite the overcrowding!