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Forecast: crowded with a chance of gain

NORTH LIBERTY— For the second time this month, the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) School Board met to discuss options for handling continued enrollment growth. The board met in its regular monthly work session on Wednesday, Jan. 18, at North Bend Elementary.
Superintendent Denise Schares said the administrative team had taken a long list of options and revised it based on the Jan. 11 discussion held at North Bend, which featured a guided tour of the school featuring rooms repurposed to house students. Schares said she felt the administrative team and the board shared the goal of providing appropriate educational spaces for the students while maintaining financial responsibility. Additionally, it was clear the district needed to look at not only immediate space needs– within the next year or two– but also longer term.
With North Bend looking for every available inch of open space, and Clear Creek Elementary (CCE) in Oxford one more class section away from either a portable classroom or re-purposing staff space, the board’s work has been cut out for them. However, two reports painted a good news/bad news picture, which likely will only add urgency to the discussion.
CCA Middle School Principal Brad Fox presented an enrollment projection which combined fact with speculation. Fox opened with district K-5 enrollment numbers starting in the 2000– 2001 school year. 604 students were enrolled at that time. Today, the number has climbed to 878, a 45 percent increase. Fox then applied a two-to-three percent annual increase, which he called very conservative, and projected out to the 2021– 2022 school year. Fox’s scenario estimates over 1,200 students in these grade levels, a 31 percent increase, in that year. However, he said, “I think that’s low.”
Sixth through eighth grade numbers started out at 286 in 2000–2001, and are at 377 now with the addition of seven students over the Christmas break. The total gives the middle school an almost 26 percent increase. Projecting out to 2021– 2022 and factoring in large groups of students coming in from the elementary trio, Fox predicts 621 students, a 63 percent increase.
For the High School, attendance in 2000– 2001 was 355. Today it is 508, a 43 percent increase. By 2021– 2022, Fox sees 775 students, again factoring-in a jump due to big middle school classes moving up.
Continued growth in enrollment was the good news portion of Fox’s presentation. Most districts in the state are losing students, putting CCA in a small group of less than 10 districts showing sustained growth. Fox then showed the bad news: existing buildings maxing-out on their capacity in but a few years.
North Bend has a capacity of 330 students, 450 if the six-room addition is built. Currently, with three re-purposed rooms, the school has 368 students. In just two years, Fox feels strongly the school will be at approximately 452 and 479 students. He added he was worried his numbers weren’t high enough considering continued housing growth in North Liberty and Tiffin. By the 2021 school year, Fox thinks North Bend could have over 580 students.
At Oxford, which has taken North Bend’s pre-kindergarten students, attendance sits at 374 with a capacity of 435 plus 36 for pre-K. By 2014– 2015, Fox sees 424, and 442 the following year. The building could hold up to 471 plus the 36, but Fox and principal Dan Dvorak pointed out Fox’s formula was based on 25 students per classroom, while CCE averages 23 per room with the largest class currently at 22 students.
“We can have more kids,” Dvorak said, “but we have no room to put them in if we have to add a section; five sections of fifth graders instead of four as an example.” Dvorak has two portable classrooms available if needed but said they would not be his first choice. CCE could re-purpose two rooms used by special education teachers, relocating them into staff areas if needed.
Fox factored enrollment growth for Amana Elementary (AE) at zero percent based on flat growth on the west end of the district. AE currently has 135 students with a variety of capacity options. With the current building configuration, the school could hold up to 270. With re-purposed rooms the capacity grows to 316. If the building was returned to the configuration it had in its K-8 days, the school could house up to 362 students. Macumber noted though, the school had four portables and approximately 500 students total. Fox’s scenario puts AE’s enrollment at 132 in the 2021– 2022 school year.
In his own middle school, Fox has room for 450 students. If his trends are correct, the school will be maxed-out in the 2015– 2016 school year, with 25 students per classroom. By 2021, Fox sees 621 students. “We have often gained students over the summer,” Fox added.
The high school was built with a capacity of 650 and currently has 504 students and three empty rooms. Fox’s plot shows the building at capacity in the 2018– 2019 school year, again based on 25 students per classroom. Principal Mark Moody pointed out not every class has 25 students– especially many of the electives– which throws a curveball into room utilization. Moody said currently the class sizes are good, but to maintain adequate physical space, he could only add 75 more students for 575 total. One proposal before the board involves moving the eighth grade to the high school. Moody said it could be done without impacting current class offerings for a year or so.
“I would have to use the three empty rooms and take away two others,” he said.
Overall, Fox’s projection has the district going from the current 1,746 students to over 2,600 by the 2021– 2022 school year. Fox said planning for enrollment growth boils down to survival mode, or how to get through the next couple of years, and a more long-term mode.
“I don’t see how we can’t put the addition on North Bend,” Fox said, also calling for the middle school renovation and expansion to proceed. Fox suggested the board may have to consider building a new elementary school in the North Liberty-Tiffin area.
North Bend Principal Brenda Parker addressed a different projection: new housing. Parker met with North Liberty’s city planner Dean Wheatley and brought back numbers which Schares prefaced as being “…a bit much to absorb.”
Just within the North Bend area, 372 multi-family units are currently planned, with 101 in progress and another 171 ready to start. Three hundred eighty-six single-family units are in the works with 45 currently in progress and 341 ready to start. In addition, Parker reported 62 duplexes slated for construction with 62 more in progress. Parker said this means over 700 new dwellings with the potential for new students.
She noted this does not take into account development outside the North Liberty city limits.
“It is safe to say, we can anticipate growing enrollment,” Schares said.
The board will meet in another special work session Wednesday, Jan. 25, in the West Campus building at 7 p.m. The public is able to attend, but as it is a work session public comments will likely not be fielded.