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Facility Planning Process Narrows Plans to Two Working Options

Building our Future

 

During the school board workshop on Thursday, Feb. 3, South Washington County Schools (SoWashCo Schools) presented two new working options developed through its long-range facility planning process. The board-approved process seeks to address student growth, overcrowded schools and student needs through a 10-year facility plan. 

Over the last month, the steering committee, with feedback from advisory groups and the long-range facility planning task force, narrowed three working options down to two. Primary considerations for each plan includes the overall cost, tax impact to property owners, minimal or extensive boundary changes, purchasing of land for future development and examining the strengths and challenges with building a fourth high school. View the presentation shared during the school board workshop. 

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. 

Input from the task force will help the steering committee narrow both 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. 

Background

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.

In 2018, the school board approved the creation of a 10-year long-range facility planning process to address facility needs and student growth through construction, renovations and additions. Planning began through the work of several 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 help 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 brought back together 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. 

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. Over the next 10 years, more than 3,500 potential new K-12 students are expected to move into the district. If we do nothing, current projections show that SoWashCo Schools will have a deficit of nearly 2,500 K-12 seats and 15 schools over capacity by 2031. 

district projected enrollment

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

Bonds are for Buildings

The final proposal is contingent on a successful bond referendum. 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, the earliest completed construction of new buildings and boundary changes would affect current families no earlier than 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.