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Doubling up: School looks at the ability of facilities to handle twice the students

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, November 23, 2013

School enrollment at Decatur doesn’t appear it will double anytime soon, but what if it did?

That was the hypothetical scenario presented to school board members and administrators Monday.

Looking to the Future

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE – Most of the discussion about future expansion needs based on student growth at Monday’s school board meeting was centered around Decatur High School, which opened in 2006. According to one high-growth projection, the school could begin to reach functional capacity in as little as four years. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The exercise was designed to take enrollment trends and compare it with space for future growth in the district’s current facilities.

“What we’re looking at tonight is what if you just doubled everything?” said architect Kevin Smith, president of Claycomb Associates. “Do you have enough space on each campus to double your occupancy on those campuses? Not that that is the best answer, but at least it will give you a frame of reference to know the possibilities.”

District enrollment has remained relatively flat the last few years. In fact, enrollment growth has been at 0 percent three of the last four years and only 1 percent the other year, according to information provided by Templeton Demographics. But despite this slowdown in growth in the school district, Smith said he believes it is just a matter of time before those percentages start climbing again.

“I believe the growth is coming, I really do,” he said. “And I believe it’s coming from Northwest (ISD) up this direction, and it’s coming from U.S. 380. I think there is no question it is coming from both directions.”

The good news, he said, is the district appears to be in good shape, at least in the short term.

“I don’t think you are in a position right now where it will sneak up on you,” he said. “If someone comes in and starts subdividing, building houses, it’s going to be a two-year process. Unless you have that here, you are not going to have a great influx of people. I think you are in pretty good shape in the short term.”

While each school in the district still has room to support student growth, the high school is the closest to reaching its functional capacity. Current enrollment stands at 878, and the functional capacity of the school is 1,012.

Smith explained functional capacity doesn’t mean every class in school is full of students every class period. He arrived at the functional capacity number by multiplying the number of core classrooms times 25 (the maximum number of students per class) and multiplying that number by 75 percent.

What that means is the school still has room to add more students, but once you pass the functional capacity number, it begins to take away scheduling flexibility and eventually could lead to less course offerings.

“It would change the dynamics of how we run the building now,” said high school principal Jason Cochran. “… You’d have changes in cutoff numbers. Right now, you might have 12 in a physics class. My cutoff numbers would change so that if I didn’t have 19 or 20 in a class, that class doesn’t make. The offerings would become more uniform. We wouldn’t be able to diversify the programs as much as we do now.”

The high school was built so that adding classrooms is a possibility. The drawback is core classes are concentrated in the northern section of the building, making that area of the school more crowded.

Templeton’s high growth scenario for the high school would put the campus at its functional capacity in the 2017-2018 school year, while a medium projection shows the school staying under the functional capacity for at least another 10 years.

If the original theoretical scenario of doubling the current enrollment was applied to the high school, the student population would stand at 1,756 students, which would require an additional 36 classrooms, an increase in dining/food service, an expansion of the parking area and an increase in athletic space.

School board president Kevin Haney asked Smith for a “ballpark figure” on how much it would cost to make these expansions to the current high school. After doing a little figuring, Smith estimated it would take $7.5 million.

“Seven-and-a-half million is not a bad number to get to a position we could double our enrollment there,” Haney said.

Current enrollment at the elementary level is 1,368 with functional capacity of 2,508.

Middle school enrollment (seventh and eighth grade only) is 503 with a functional capacity of 750.

The sixth grade campus is the only school in the district that currently has enough space to handle double the enrollment. Current enrollment is 234, and the school has a functional capacity of 554.

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