Hermiston gets new modulars to accommodate for increase in enrollment, full-day kindergarten

<p>The Hermiston School District purchased six new modular buildings that feature two classrooms each, which were installed this summer. Pictured, two modular buildings sit behind Rocky Heights Elementary School.</p>

The Hermiston School District purchased six new modular buildings this year, which are now installed at several elementary schools across the district, but even with the new available space, class space is already looking tight.

Hermiston Deputy Superintendent Wade Smith said the district officials ordered the modulars in January because they knew extra space was needed this year and next as Hermiston slowly unrolls its full-day kindergarten, as well as to accommodate for an increase in student enrollment.

Classroom space has continued to be a topic of discussion during the last several years, Smith said, and that discussion will not stop any time soon.

Figures from a recently released Portland State University study indicate the district is projected to grow by more than 800 students in the next several years, which is on target with what the district experienced in the last 10 years. The modular buildings, which were officially open to teachers Friday, Smith said, are a viable but temporary solution to a steadily increasing challenge, with the key word being “temporary.”

“The rule of thumb for a modular facility is they’ll last about 10 years before some moderate remodeling is required,” he said. “Obviously, the quality and durability don’t compare with the hard construction of a school building, but that is why they are a lower cost alternative. They average about 25 cents on the dollar compared to hard construction.”

Each modular building is equipped with two classrooms, bringing the total number of new modular classrooms to 12. Despite the extra space, Smith said things are looking tight when factoring in the increase in enrollment to available classroom space.

“Our numbers are up significantly,” he said. “That is going to be a challenge for us.”

Smith said, even with the modular additions, the district will only have about one open classroom among the elementary schools. He said, as of Tuesday afternoon, the district was up by nearly 190 students compared with the district’s highest enrollment number of 5,200 last year, bringing the total number of students to nearly 5,300 on the books this year.

Smith said that number may drop a bit as figures are finalized to incorporate students who have moved out of the district, but it still marks a large increase from last year.

“If we finished anywhere in the 5,300 mark, we will maybe hit a record setting enrollment number this year,” he said.

Smith said the district has been fortunate to keep class sizes reasonable. He said administrators typically try to keep kindergarten and first-grade class numbers to the low 20s, in the mid 20s for upper elementary grades and the upper 20s at the secondary level.

He said they don’t anticipate those class sizes to change too much in the coming school year, however, heading into next year, if the district doesn’t purchase additional modulars, class sizes will become a problem.

“That is very concerning in the upcoming year,” he said. “We anticipate procuring another three to four modulars next summer.”

As it stands, Smith said the district has 12 modular buildings, with 24 classrooms, which is essentially a whole new school building.

“We’re right back to where we were before the passing of the 2008 bond,” he said.

Smith said this is a discussion the district will have every five to seven years because of the rapid growth.

“Every five to seven years, this is something that the community is going to have to wrestle with,” he said. “We have essentially a whole elementary school in modulars this year alone, and that number will only continue to grow.”

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