EAU CLAIRE — Faced with an uncertain enrollment forecast, the Eau Claire school board on Monday floated a litany of facility projects that could be part of a November 2022 school district referendum.
Several elementary schools on the city’s south side are overcrowded, school officials have said in recent years. Several million dollars in facility projects at South Middle School and Roosevelt Elementary School are also included as referendum talks continue.
But this spring a school district committee has begun exploring another potential big-ticket item: Expanding and/or renovating North and Memorial high schools, a bid to accommodate a crowded facility at North and even out the schools’ respective capacities.
The school district last went to referendum in 2016. Voters passed the $87.9 million measure, which ultimately funded operating expenses and school building upgrades.
Possible high school expansions
The district’s Demographic Trends and Facility Planning Committee, a group that gives recommendations to the school board about school boundaries and building capacities, began exploring an expansion of the two high schools this spring, said Kim Koller, executive director of administration.
Both North and Memorial are projected to hit over 80% of their building capacities in the 2021-22 school year, according to district figures.
Memorial is projected to have around 1,578 enrolled students in the upcoming school year, which is around 83% of its capacity, according to district figures. North is projected to hit around 1,648 students — up from 1,300 students in 2015 — and to reach about 97% of its capacity in the upcoming school year.
“Having North above 90% (capacity) is expected to last over the next several years, even with potentially any impact on enrollment due to the pandemic,” Koller said. “We’re not seeing relief, so to say, at North High School.”
Memorial is in a more comfortable spot at 83% capacity, but “the age of the building and configuration of the school does leave some concerns as well,” Koller added.
Several years ago, the district had the opposite problem. Memorial saw higher enrollment and North had lower numbers, but after the school board in 2017 altered the boundaries between the two high schools to balance enrollment, their numbers have shifted too far in the other direction, school officials said in January. (When the school board made its initial decision in 2017, North was at 78% capacity and Memorial was at about 90%, according to district numbers.)
Koller said expanding Memorial and North could involve the following projects:
• Adding more general-purpose classrooms at North.
• Renovating and expanding the commons area at North.
• Renovating and expanding the commons area at Memorial.
“If all students at our high schools wanted to eat lunch at school, we would not be able to serve them,” Koller said of the schools’ commons areas.
School officials on Monday didn’t cite the cost of adding onto the high schools.
North has a total capacity of 1,700 students, Koller said. Memorial has a slightly larger capacity of 1,900.
Adding classrooms at North would make both schools’ capacities roughly equal, Koller noted.
The district has made a short-term change to attempt to divert some students to Memorial. In January the school board voted to reopen Memorial as an open-enrollment site. (Between 2017 and early 2021, all open-enrolled high school students were placed at North.)
The Demographic Trends committee will study the proposed high school expansions — and their respective costs — this fall.
The committee will likely offer its formal recommendation on expanding the high schools in October or November.
Some south side elementary schools have struggled with overcrowding and large enrollment numbers in recent years.
Until last year, Manz, Meadowview and Putnam Heights elementary schools were nearing 100% capacity. In the 2019-20 school year, Manz hit 87% capacity; Putnam Heights was at 91% and Meadowview was at 95%.
In July 2020, the Demographic Trends committee made its recommendation: Add onto Manz, Meadowview and Putnam Heights, to the tune of $15.9 million. The proposed expansion would add 470 student seats.
However, the pandemic — and an ensuing drop in enrollment — complicated matters.
Manz, Putnam Heights and Meadowview are projected to drop to 77%, 89% and 80% capacity in the coming school year, respectively.
Currently, the committee’s recommendation to expand the three schools still stands, Koller said. The committee plans to monitor enrollment at the schools in 2021 and 2022 and might change its recommendation later, she added.
Other possible projects
Other referendum prospects include renovations at South Middle School and a new roof, windows and gym floor for Roosevelt Elementary School.
The South and Roosevelt projects were taken out of the November 2016 referendum because they would have added significantly to the price tag, said executive director of business services Abby Johnson in May.
A building overhaul at South would cost at least $22 million, and likely more, since the $22 million estimate was from around 2016, Johnson said Monday.
There’s also a litany of deferred maintenance projects that could be candidates for a 2022 referendum, Johnson said: Roofs, parking lots, HVAC systems, exterior doors, windows, flooring, fire alarm systems and ADA compliance in buildings.
District officials didn’t cite what buildings would need that maintenance. Johnson said those needs will be evaluated in coming months.
In the district’s successful 2016 referendum, $25 million was earmarked for deferred maintenance projects.
School board member Marquell Johnson on Monday asked the school district to consider HVAC system upgrades that align with air quality requirements, and also to consider enlarging classroom sizes at the high schools.
Board member Phil Lyons said he’s “more focused” on deferred maintenance than elementary school expansion, noting that enrollment at the three most strained elementary schools has fallen this year and the enrollment forecast is uncertain.
In other school district news:
• The board approved the transfer of secondary virtual program administrator Travis Hedtke back to his former position as Memorial High School assistant principal. The district initially transferred Hedtke from Memorial to the virtual programming position in September 2020.
• The board voted to approve updates to its work calendar, which dictates what topics the board will discuss at set points throughout the year. Under the new calendar, the school board would discuss the timeline, planning and budgeting of a possible November 2022 referendum at various dates throughout the next year.
• The board heard a presentation from Eau Claire schools superintendent Mike Johnson involving the superintendent’s emergency succession plan.