'Tidal Wave' of Students Hitting Hermiston

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[quote style=”2″]Capacity Challenges Loom for Hermiston School District[/quote]

Population growth holds promise for the Hermiston community, but the Hermiston School District is facing a challenge when it comes to rapid growth in the student population.

During its September Board Meeting on Monday the HSD Board of Education received sobering news from Deputy Superintendent Wade Smith regarding imminent capacity issues.

As of Monday, which marked the end of the school district’s 10-day drop period, 5,319 students were enrolled in Hermiston’s schools – over 100 more students than were enrolled at this time last year. Most of the growth has occurred at the elementary level.

Smith said that, despite the increase in enrollment, HSD still boasts “very modest class sizes – especially compared to some of the numbers we’re seeing across the state. All of our younger classrooms at the K-2 level are hovering around an average of 22 to 24 students per class, with about 25 to 26 being the average in the upper elementary.”

The district’s cause for concern became evident when Smith presented a Facility Capacity Report, commissioned by the district’s Facility Master Planning Committee. The report is intended to assess how many students and staff the district can fit reasonably into its current facilities and to determine what steps may be necessary to accommodate growth.

“We now utilize 24 modular classrooms across our elementary campuses in order to serve our growing student population, which is four more than we maintained prior to the 2008 bond,” said Smith. “If we continue to grow at our current rate, that number will balloon to 56 modular classrooms over the next nine years across all campuses, especially needed at the middle and high school levels.”

The 2008 bond program, which replaced West Park Elementary, Sunset Elementary, and Armand Larive Middle School, provided nearly 500 additional seats due to larger campus footprints than their predecessors. However, as the district has grown at an average rate of about 100 students per year – a trend which a recently-released Portland State University Population Study predicts will continue – additional seats have already been consumed at the elementary level and are nearing maximum utilization at the middle and high school campuses.

Desert View Elementary School has already exceeded its maximum student capacity. The district is shuttling more than 30 students from Desert View to other schools in the area. Sunset Elementary School is one student away from exceeding its capacity.

“This is not ideal student capacity; this is maximum student capacity,” said Smith. “This is how many kids you can put into the schools before you reach potential safety issues with the number of students in a classroom, or you actually exceed fire code limitations – how many students and staff you can put into a building.”

The Capacity Report noted the following by level:

Elementary Level
• One available classroom for growth across the five elementary campuses (includes full-day KG implementation)
• Elementary schools currently utilize 12 modular facilities (24 classrooms) to support current enrollment and programs
• Up to 17 modulars (34 classrooms) will be required to meet student growth over the next nine years
• Over 400 students already housed in modulars (will increase to nearly 600 students over the next nine years)
• Significant shuttling of students to non-neighborhood schools have, and will continue to be necessary to accommodate overcrowded conditions

Middle School Level
• Six classrooms available for growth
• All six rooms will be consumed over the next three years with elementary growth rolling up into the middle schools
• Up to four modulars (eight classrooms) will be required to meet student growth over the next nine years

High School Level
• Four available classrooms for growth
• All four classrooms will be consumed as early as next school year to accommodate high school growth
• One modular facility (two classrooms) may be required as soon as next year to meet student growth demands
• Over the next nine years, seven modulars (14 classrooms) will likely be required to meet growing student population demands

Smith emphasized that HSD has only begun to see the student “tidal wave” hitting Hermiston’s schools.

“We’ve outgrown a whole other elementary school already. We already will be over capacity, even if we add an entire elementary school to our current campus inventory,” he said. “That wave is quickly hitting our middle schools and high school and will be quite a challenge for us as we wrestle with what we’re going to do over these next three to five years.”

The Capacity Report, as well as additional studies commissioned by the District’s Facility Master Planning Committee, are available on the district’s website.

The Capacity Report will be combined with a number of other reports over the coming months and presented to the Board of Education in the spring to help Board members determine the best course of action.

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