Spaces need growth as goals change

Despite steady enrollment levels projected for the next several years, Oak Harbor High School would expand by 38,000 square feet should voters approve a bond next month.

School officials say the expansion would cure a classroom shortage that has plagued the school for years.

District Superintendent Rick Schulte said the additional space built into the high school will be a combination of classrooms and hallways. Should voters approve the bond, the district could add an additional 14 to 20 classrooms at the high school.

On May 16, voters will decide whether to approve a $54 million bond that would fund high school renovation. That money, coupled with an estimated $19 million in state matching money, would pay for a renovation that would also include modernization of the school’s infrastructure designed to last for the next 30 years.

Schulte said the new classrooms would provide space for current teachers who don’t have a dedicated classroom and would make up classroom space lost when the notoriously narrow hallways are widened.

The classroom shortage has been an ongoing problem over the years. Some teachers have to load their materials onto carts and go from classroom to classroom. That shortage is expected to continue next year.

“We’re eight classrooms short of having every teacher having a classroom through the day,” Oak Harbor High School Principal Dwight Lundstrom said. The school has been having problems with classroom space as the instructional focus has shifted over the years. As goals change, school officials don’t necessarily have the facilities to accommodate the new classes.

“That causes stress to an already full system,” Lundstrom said.

Lundstrom said a new science teacher and a new math teacher will be hired for the next school year and both will need room to teach. To make budgetary room for the new math teacher, a physical education teacher who is retiring won’t be replaced.

In addition to the extra math and science classes, the school district has instituted new special education programs in recent years. Those classes have fewer students than the regular classes. The school was required to start a transition program that helps special education kids prepare for life after high school and an emotional/behavior disabled program which also takes up classroom space at the high school.

There are approximately 1,671 students attending Oak Harbor High School, according to the April head count. Schulte said plans for the high school renovation take into account stable enrollment in the coming years.

People read the future differently, which makes future class size hard to judge. Schulte said some want the high school expanded to accommodate growth from the large numbers of houses that will be built in the area in the next few years, while others want it reduced because of lower projected enrollment in those years.

School officials said there are approximately 1,000 building permits already granted for residential houses within the boundaries of the Oak Harbor School District, yet enrollment projections show fewer high school students in the coming years. The numbers are expected to go from an estimated 1,731 students in 2007 to 1,604 students in 2011.

Carter Bagg, regional facilities coordinator for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the enrollment projections are based only on current enrollment numbers.

“It’s using present enrollment to predict future enrollment,” Bagg said. It doesn’t take into account outside factors that could change enrollment numbers. Those factors could range from large numbers of first-time homeowners whose children haven’t reached school age yet to significant movement of military families.

Schulte said that such shifting factors could impact higher or lower enrollments in the future, but he expects them to balance each other out.

The remodeled high school will have sufficient space to meet the enrollment for at least the next six years. After that Schulte said it’s impossible to predict enrollment.

While plans call for increasing the numbers of high school classrooms, the proposed renovations would also help widen hallways and enclose more of the campus to make it more secure by eliminating the more than 60 entrances to the high school. People worry that someone could easily sneak into the school today.

Preliminary plans call for enclosing the open area between Parker Hall and the B wing and also widening hallways and expanding smaller classrooms. Classrooms are typically between 900 and 1,000 square feet and some of the smaller classes at the high school are 700 square feet, which makes for overcrowding.

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