OXFORD– Recommendations from the district’s facility committee were presented to the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) School Board of Directors Wednesday, April 17, during a work session preceding the regular monthly meeting at Clear Creek Elementary. Many of the board members had been in attendance at the Wednesday, April 10, facility committee meeting where the options had been determined, making a presentation by middle school principal Brad Fox something of a repeat.
But, the consensus was they still need more time and some more information before making a final decision on how best to address the district’s continuing enrollment growth and dwindling space to house students.
With new construction appearing to be a necessity, and a bond issue referendum likely in the fall, the board is considering three options including additions to North Bend Elementary in North Liberty, the middle school and high school in Tiffin and even a new building; either a new elementary or an expanded middle school. The administrative team, working with Shive-Hattery’s Keith Johnk, crafted the options with total price tags at or near the $43 million in bonding capacity the district currently enjoys. Fox told the board four main criteria were considered in drawing up the options: educational feasibility, projected enrollment, longevity and financial responsibility.
Fox explained educational feasibility as, “age-appropriate configurations. There are a couple of options that, that was the reason as an administrative team, we didn’t feel too good about them.” He said it also applies to maintaining optimal class sizes, minimizing transition (uprooting students and families from one building to another) and being mindful of the overall capacity of the elementary buildings.
Projected enrollment has been an ongoing topic of discussion for several years and is a prime factor for the emphasis on new or expanded facilities. Early in the process, the facility committee commissioned Dr. Gerard Rushton of the University of Iowa’s Geography Department to study enrollment trends in the CCA district, and provide a forecast for the future. Fox issued a disclaimer saying, “every single year, depending on where we’re at in the process (of construction), we’ll have to spend time as a board and administrative team trying to figure out where are our students going to go next year.” Fox said the district would have to be very clear with the public on this matter. “There’s going to be times when we have to put kids in different facilities based on where we’re at in the process.”
Board president Eileen Schmidt clarified that if students are moved, it is an administrative team decision, which does not need board approval. However, acknowledging the likelihood of upset parents coming to the board, Schmidt said, “we’re going to have to stand behind the administration on why they’re being moved.” Fox reiterated the importance of communication with the public and stated a goal of having a plan in place and notices going out several months ahead of time.
Longevity, Fox said, refers to maintaining an attendance center in each community served by the district. “We do a great job of taking care of the facilities we have, but let’s continue to do what we need to do in each facility to keep it at the level we want for all of our students.”
Financial responsibility includes, “managing transportation efficiently and looking for ways to utilize current and future facilities to the best of their capacity,” Fox said. Current capacities and projected enrollments, for each building over the next six years were reviewed, but the projections did not include Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) programming. Johnk explained Rushton’s analysis did not include that category of student. A typical Pre-K class size averages 20 students.
While Pre-K offerings are still voluntary, the administrative team made it clear to the board, there are benefits and expectations related to the program. “I think we all would agree, its something we obviously want in all of our schools,” Fox said. Currently North Bend Elementary does not offer Pre-K due to a two-year lack of space, but will have it next year. Clear Creek Elementary has two Pre-K classes and Amana Elementary has one. “I think its something that our community likes, expects, wants,” Fox said.
Another learning curve facing the board and administration is the evolving trends in enrollment growth. Superintendent Denise Schares spoke of the extremes such as an increase of 12 students last year vs. 130 this year. “That’s just the variance you can experience. I don’t think we’ll have another 12 student increase year, but if we do, that then changes our approach,” Schares said.
At North Bend, where a six-classroom pod is nearing completion, the space crunch is still evident. “We’re using spaces that are not classrooms currently,” said North Bend Elementary School principal Brenda Parker. “We’re adding two sections of our upper grades this coming year because of our increase in numbers. There’s one open classroom, but we’re looking to add a Level 2-3 special ed teacher, which would then take that one open classroom.” Board vice-president Rick Hergert noted with the new pod, North Bend would have an instructional capacity of 425 and based on projections for next year, the enrollment could be as high as 466, reinforcing the argument the school will again be full.
Two of the three facility options include adding a fourth classroom pod to North Bend. Johnk said it could be done, even though it was previously determined that the current addition would max out the ability to expand. If constructed, the school’s capacity would increase to 560.
An additional pod would extend to the east and would include two more kindergarten rooms in addition to six regular classrooms. There is one concern though, Johnk explained.
“The one bad thing about putting an addition on the east side is our geothermal fields are clear on the west side.” Running pipes under the building to the east side would be an option.
Board member Steve Swenka asked, “So is this a good idea? Or just an idea?”
“It would give you some flexibility,” Johnk answered. “Eventually you’re going to need a new elementary, somewhere. And that’s going to create a new facility on a new site. That fourth pod delays that by five, six years or longer.”
At Clear Creek Elementary, Dvorak summed it up succinctly. “We’re full. We have no room to expand,” said Dvorak.
The board will continue the discussion in a special work session Wednesday, May 8, at the high school in Tiffin. The meeting is open to the public and will start at 7 p.m. in the library conference room.
“We need to get our best first plan going,” Fox said.