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Building our Future 2025 - The Need to Address Student Growth

Building our Future
homes under construction

Pictured: The Summer's Landing development is expected to provide 400 new mixed housing types.

South Washington County Schools (SoWashCo Schools) is planning for the future to address community growth and student needs through a long-range facility planning process. 

Over the next 10 years, more than 3,500 potential new K-12 students are expected to move into the district. Though enrollment slowed during the pandemic, housing developments continued to move forward. Within the next decade, it’s estimated that more than 5,000 single family homes and more than 3,000 multifamily homes will be constructed within the district. If we do nothing, current projections show that SoWashCo Schools will have a deficit of nearly 2,500 K-12 seats for students by 2031. 

District Enrollment Projections

District Charts Enrollment

Estimates based on Davis Demographics formula for student generation rates implemented on current housing developments and demographics over the last 10 years.

Overcrowding in Our Schools

Currently, East Ridge and Woodbury High Schools are over capacity with Grey Cloud and Pine Hill Elementary Schools and Oltman Middle School set to soar over capacity within two years. Within 10 years, a total of 15 schools will be over capacity, creating challenging learning environments for students. View 10-year projected enrollment by school.

In 2015, voters approved a bond referendum to construct a new middle school which opened as Oltman Middle School in fall 2018. Another bond question on the 2015 ballot failed and would have provided additions and improvements to existing high schools and upgrades to several elementary schools. Since 2015, the need for improvements, expansions and upgrades has increased.

For example, during any given lunch period, Woodbury High School students are forced to spread outside of their cafeteria and into overflow areas. 

WHS students in congested cafeteria

Pictured: Congestion in the cafeteria at Woodbury High School.

“Even though we have enough lunch seating, our students are responding to the overall congestion of our cafeteria layout,” said Sarah Sorenson-Wagner, Principal. “In order for groups of students to sit together, you’ll often see them eating in the hallways, entryways or with their lunch trays on the floor.”

WHS students eating lunch on the floor

Pictured: Woodbury High School students spread out to eat lunch to avoid congestion in the cafeteria.

In response, Principal Sorenson-Wagner has slowly transformed the lunch overflow area by adding new seating and booths. The short-term fix has eased at least some of the congestion, but does not solve the overall space restrictions. 

During a non-COVID school year at Pine Hill Elementary, students are packed into the small lobby as parents drop off their children in the morning. Like many SoWashCo elementary schools built in the 1960s, the crowding issue is further impacted by the one set of common bathrooms for all 519 of students.

Class size is also a growing issue each year. Every classroom is currently full, with multiple grade levels nearing class size capacity.

“I am already in fear of where we’ll put students next year,” said Jolaine Mast, Principal. “All available areas are being used, and we’ll likely need to get creative with spaces that were never meant for learning.”

Pine Hill is set to go over capacity within just two years. If we did nothing, the school would have 333 more students than the space it has available within 10 years.

Former closet becomes occupational therapy room

Pictured: An occupational therapy space makes use of a former storage closet in Pine Hill Elementary.
 

The Process So Far

In 2018, the school board approved creation of a 10-year long-range facility planning process to address facility needs and student growth through construction, renovations and additions. The plan began with a full enrollment report and creation of several committees. Learn more about the long-range facility planning committees.

A steering committee and long-range facility task force evaluated 2018 enrollment projections, building capacity calculations, housing developments and multiple renovation and construction plans. The task force, which consists of parents, staff and construction experts, used data to narrow down several options to build, renovate or upgrade schools and facilities across the district. As SoWashCo Schools prepared to share the facility plans with the community for feedback in March 2020, COVID-19 arrived and delayed all planning for a full year. View the full timeline.

In November 2021, the original task force was revived to review new plans adjusted with post-covid data. Information included newly identified student needs and enrollment projections in addition to new housing developments. To the surprise of many, housing construction did not slow down during the pandemic. 

Working Options

The growth in our communities requires multiple approaches to address the space needs in school buildings, including new construction, renovations, repurposing the use of buildings, moving programs and attendance boundary changes. 

SoWashCo Schools is currently working through three working options, as recently presented to the school board [Presentation | Video]. The options work toward: 

  • Ensuring adequate classroom space at all grade levels
  • Providing space for early learning, special education, alternative high school and operational facilities
  • Achieving the best possible learning environment for students
  • Designing equitable learning spaces at the elementary, middle and high school levels

Input from the task force will help the steering committee narrow all the working options to one proposal that will be shared with the school board and the community in March. Community information sessions will be scheduled to gather feedback on the preferred proposal. The steering committee will review feedback, make adjustments and will share the final recommendation with the Superintendent for school board approval in April. If the board approves the final recommendation, the district will begin preparing for a bond referendum election for Aug. 9, 2022. 

Bonds are for Buildings

A bond referendum gives voters the opportunity to decide if SoWashCo Schools should be authorized to raise construction funding through the sale of bonds. Bonds allow the district to borrow money that it then pays back over time. This is the only method to raise enough funds for new construction and renovations. This construction funding does not take away from education funding, nor can it be used for salaries, textbooks, curriculum and so on. If the board approves the long-range facility proposal and the bond referendum passes in August, families would not be affected by changes until at least 2025.

Thank You Voters

Last November, voters approved an operating levy for classrooms, instruction and other school operating costs. The levy approval was tied to inflation and is providing operational stability in order to now focus on growth and facility needs.

To learn more about Building our Future: the Long-Range Facility Planning Process, visit sowashco.org/facilityplanning for recent school board presentations, projected enrollment, timelines and other information.