As of next year, the Hermiston elementary schools will officially run out of space unless the district decides on a definite plan for additional classrooms.

To remedy this, the school district will be completing a facilities master plan in conjunction with the city, Deputy Superintendent Wade Smith reported to the School Board Tuesday night at its regular meeting.

Smith highlighted some of the steadily approaching difficulties the district faces created by the district’s growing population trend and the need to implement full-day kindergarten by the 2015-16 school year.

Smith said, on average, the district grows by approximately two kindergarten classes each year, which equates to approximately 50 students. In the last five years, the district has grown an average of 250 students.

“That is a significant increase in the student population over a five-year term,” he said. “This is obviously something that we are very concerned about, but this is not something that came to a shock to us. This is something that we live and breathe on a day-to-day basis.”

Each of the elementary schools currently has an average of about 634 students out of a possible maximum capacity of 650 students, Smith said. To address the problem on a long-term basis, the district has partnered with the City of Hermiston and Umatilla County to create a 10-year facilities master plan, a measure also required by the state.

A committee, composed of three school-board members, five school district members and five community and county residents, will meet once every other month to develop the comprehensive plan, which Smith said he expects to be finalized by next summer or early fall.

“I want to make this very clear ... this is not a pre-bond committee,” Smith said. “This is not a ‘let’s go build more schools’ committee ... This really is a chance to pull back from that process, form an evaluation of where we are and where we are going, not only in population, but in the current status of our buildings.”

Also required in the planning process, the district has also contracted with Portland State University to conduct a population forecast study, which will be available by this spring, to help predict further population growth. The district’s last study was completed in 2007.

To address the immediate problem for next year, however, Smith said he expects the district will have to tap into its $1 million facilities reserve fund to purchase three modular additional facilities for the elementary schools. The fund was created to allow the district to purchase modular facilities in the future for full-time kindergarten classes.

For the following 2015-16 school year, the district will also need to purchase five additional modular facilities to make room for all of the full-day kindergarten students. Smith said the district currently has 20 half-day sessions of kindergarten taught by 10 teachers. All resources, including the number of teachers, would have to be doubled to make to accommodate all-day kindergarten, which has been mandated for all school districts by the state.

“Right now, we have two classes sharing the same teacher,” he said. “Now, they are going to have their own teacher, their own desks and their own supplies ... Obviously, this is a huge endeavor.”

The number of new modular facilities would total nine, or 18 additional classrooms, across the district.

A typical elementary school in Hermiston has anywhere from 20 to 24 classrooms, Smith said.

“We would be essentially housing a whole new school in modular facilities,” Superintendent Fred Maiocco said. “I just want to make sure that we are clear about that.”

In 2008, when it came time to deciding what to include in the proposed Hermiston School District bond, Smith said it was clear the voters wouldn’t support the measure if it included the replacement of Rocky Heights Elementary School and the construction of an entirely new elementary school.

Instead of the originally planned $105 million bond, the district decided to pursue the now-approved $69.9 million bond, which allowed for the replacement of Sunset and West Park elementary schools.

Each replacement school now houses two additional classrooms each, which the district planned to use for the influx of full-day students in kindergarten.

“The voters clearly said they were not going to support it, so the board said ‘let’s place before the voter what we think will logically pass,’” Smith said.

The result of that decision is the district is right back where it started as far as capacity and enrollment numbers are concerned, he said.

Smith said he is thankful the district growth has not been as fast as Portland State previously predicted.

The district is up 30 to 35 students from last year, compared with a projected increase of 55 students.

Smith said another problem for the district is only two companies in Oregon are licensed to produce school-approved modular facilities.

“One of the concerns is whether they are going to be able to deliver on these,” he said. “Right now, (they) have a five- to six-month back log ... What are (they) going to do when (they) get an order for 2,000 modulars across the state of Oregon? How are (they) going to fulfill those?”

Smith said the district is currently communicating with the two companies to see how far in advance it would have to submit an order to ensure the district has the facilities in time.

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