School officials in Meade County toured four district facilities on Monday during a special board meeting in an effort to find enough space to meet an anticipated surge in elementary school enrollment in the coming years.
School board and district officials toured the district's four elementary schools, including the old Stagebarn facility that was closed when the new Piedmont Valley Elementary was built in 2011.
The group also toured an adjacent six acres of land southeast of the Stagebarn School that the district is eyeing for purchase, giving the district about 23 acres of land at a Stagebarn campus. Consultants have told the district they would need about 25 acres for a middle school/high school complex at Piedmont.
With Sturgis Elementary School and the newly built Piedmont Valley Elementary School both near capacity, school officials anticipate that both will be out of space in the next couple of years.
A proposed remodel of the second floor of the Williams Administrative Building in Sturgis would accommodate fifth grade students from Sturgis Elementary, but additional space is still needed for projected growth in the elementary school population at Piedmont.
"We are going to be hard pressed to make it two years at Piedmont Valley," Superintendent Don Kirkegaard said. "And we're looking at 750-plus students at Sturgis Elementary."
Kirkegaard said it will be up to the school board to determine over the next couple of months the most fiscally responsible way to address the growing enrollment and need for additional space.
"Not only do you have to provide the funding to bring a facility up to speed or have a new facility, you also then have to have funding to operate the school," he said.
As part of that plan, school officials will have to determine the best use for the Stagebarn facility. Some have suggested it could be utilized as a middle school or high school.
"Typically you don't open up a new school that's on its last leg, rather than the beginning part of it, but at the same time, nobody wants to tear down a facility that's structurally sound," said Kirkegaard. "It is going to be a tough decision, there's no question about it."
He indicated that due to bonded indebtedness and other financial issues facing the district, school officials will have to look at a number of options in the coming months to determine the best longterm plan to address the growth and the best use of district facilities.
Since the Stagebarn school was closed in 2011, the district has continued to pay for utilities and basic upkeep.
School board president Bob Burns pointed out that it is often less costly to build brand new rather than remodel an old facility.
A former school building south of Hot Springs is currently being razed after the Nature Conservancy acquired the property and learned it would cost $.25 million more to remodel the current structure than to build a brand new facility, he said.
At Piedmont Valley Elementary, Kirkegaard said estimates to add four classrooms that were eliminated during construction would cost around $1 million.
Piedmont Valley Elementary Principal Ethan Dschaak said the enrollment there continues to grow by around 50 students each year.
Changes have already been made to accommodate the growing number of students, and they are running out of options for creating additional classrooms, he said.
The current enrollment at Piedmont Valley Elementary is 493 students in kindergarten through sixth grades.
"We could very easily be a 600-student school in two years. It could happen. It's very feasible," said Dschaak. "If we keep growing, it's the snowball effect. We're going to be in trouble."
Burns explained that the Piedmont elementary school was built in anticipation of enrollment needs over the next 10 years. Based on current growth, however, the school will be at capacity in two years.
Kirkegaard said one of the issues the district faces is an increase in open enrolled students.
While open enrolled students generate approximately $5,000 each in funding to the district annually, the cost of building space for them becomes cost prohibitive when classrooms are at capacity, he said.
The school board, during their June meeting, approved 20 open enrolled kindergarten students at Piedmont. The majority of the students live outside the district but have older brothers and sisters who are enrolled in the Meade school district.
"If you don't have the capacity to educate open enrolled students, that solves some of your issues, but it doesn't help you if down the road you want to have a middle school and you want some of those kids to be part of that middle school," said Kirkegaard.
He emphasized that the district does not have enrollment problems, rather they have enrollment opportunities.
"We're excited about the fact that we have more kids every year. We have a great school system and we're glad that they want to be part of our school system," he said.
Likewise, the district does not view the growing enrollment and limited facilities as a shortage of space.
"We have enrollment opportunities that we're trying to figure ways to maximize our space so we can provide a quality education for as many kids as we can," said the superintendent.
In response to questions about moving the middle school to the Piedmont elementary school, Kirkegaard emphasized that the Piedmont Valley Elementary school was designed for elementary students, and would not be suitable as a middle school.
For instance, the elementary gymnasium is actually considered a multipurpose room, he said.
"This is a nice elementary gymnasium, but it's not a middle school gymnasium. It's not even close," said Kirkegaard. "It's a nice multipurpose room that you can do things in, but it's not a second gym, it's not a third gym. It's a multipurpose room."
Additionally, Burns pointed out there are no science labs at the school.
The school was also built to accommodate kindergarten through second-grade students on the ground level, with grades three through five utilizing second floor classrooms, he said.
The possible relocation of fifth-graders from Sturgis Elementary to the Williams Building wouldn't happen until the 2014-15 school year, school officials say.
The second floor east wing of the Williams Building will accommodate seven classrooms. The renovation would include possibly adding an elevator, overhaul of the building's HVAC, dropping ceilings, improving flooring, windows and bathrooms, and painting.