Enrollment growth may require sixth elementary for Lindbergh

‘Relief valve’ needed to accommodate aggressive growth, superintendent says

By Mike Anthony

Aggressive enrollment growth projected over the next four years will require the Lindbergh Board of Education to consider opening a sixth elementary school at some point in the near future, according to Superintendent Jim Simpson.

Opening a new elementary school would require voter approval of a bond issue and an increase in the district’s operational tax-rate, though Simpson told the Call it was too early to discuss any specific numbers.

During a recent Board of Education meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Services Brian McKenney reported “significant growth” is projected in the district’s enrollment by the 2016-2017 school year.

“The district is projected to grow by 570 students with much of that growth focused in the elementary schools. Elementary schools are projected to grow by 238 additional students over the next four years,” he said, noting the enrollment projections are “conservative.”

“I would also note that these numbers are conservative as they don’t take into account — can’t take into account — the development of housing areas. We do know of one, for instance, that will go in and there may be others …,” McKenney said. “I would also say that year in and year out, we have students move into the district, and that’s also something that this report does not take into account. So these are conservative estimates, but they do indicate significant growth over the course of the next four years.”

A typical elementary school enrollment is 500 students, and the projection of 570 more students over the next four years exceeds that number, Simpson said.

“The enrollment is aggressive and troubling because it’s clearly going to have to be dealt with, and at this moment in time, we do not have a single elementary classroom open,” he said. “And yet, this growth is happening relentlessly, year after year after year, and we have some major subdivisions coming on line.”

As a result, district officials will have to “keep our class sizes in check,” according to Simpson.

“… We can’t put 40 kids in a class. We have to find new classrooms. That’s the only answer. You must have new classrooms to handle growth …,” he said. “We’re the No. 1 school district in the state of Missouri for the third year and we know all the parts of the puzzle to keep that going. And having crammed-in classes is not one of them. So we’re worried about the growth. It’s relentless and it’s a good thing, but we have to accommodate it.

“We only have one chess move to do that …,” Simpson said, referring to the district’s purchase of the Dressel School building.

In July 2011, the district closed on the $1.94 million purchase of the Dressel School building, which sits on roughly 10 acres at 10255 Musick Road. But the building presents problems, Simpson said, particularly meeting Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.

At some point, the Board of Education will have to decide whether to renovate Dressel or raze it and construct a modern elementary school on the site, the superintendent said.

Of Dressel, he said, “… It is a very small, very sort of a rundown building built in the ’60s, but we need to do something with that property to put a brand-new, 500-student campus on there — similar to Concord.”

Concord Elementary School, 10305 Concord School Road, opened in August 2011 and is the district’s first new elementary school in 50 years. The first Concord School, a one-room log cabin schoolhouse, opened in 1844.

“It won’t look identical to Concord, but Concord can show you what we can do to take an old school campus and put it into play,” he said. “So we can do the same thing at Dressel. We can make a modern campus that will fill the needs. And that is a part of our school district that is showing strong growth — very strong.”

Regarding Dressel, Simpson said, “… It comes down to really a basic question, a bridge that the board will have to cross at some point in time, and that is what if your engineers and your architects say, ‘We can knock all these walls out and we can do all this to try to renovate, but I’m telling you, you could build from the ground new just as cheap. What do you want to do?’ … That’s what we’re getting from our architects and engineers that have toured the building that, wow, they haven’t seen a building like this in quite a while. Most have been changed and rebuilt …”

A major subdivision planned for Musick and Gravois roads will only add to the district’s increase in enrollment.

“We will have to address that growth and that means pulling Dressel into play, and I know that it hurts even to think about it, but the only way to put a new building into Lindbergh — there’s only one way to get a new school building in the entire state and Lindbergh’s no exception — we’ll have to go to the polls and ask the support of our Lindbergh community to help us handle this growth.

“We’re excited about the growth. It is an affirmation of life and renewal, but it has to be dealt with and effectively. If we’re going to have the quality-of-life place that we want and the top-performing school district in the state, we have to handle that right. Our area is blessed with so many things and our district is blessed with so many things that make a high quality of life, and we think the future is very, very bright.”

The time frame for building a new school, including an election, architectural and engineering work, permitting and construction, is roughly 48 months.

“… It’s 48 months just about from the time that you say I’m going to get this going to when you got it because you’ve got to have some time to get it into shape (and present) information to the people. That takes months. Then you have an election. Nothing can really start until you’ve got a green light because you don’t have any money,” he said.

“… As soon as we go to the polls, we’ve got another year of codes, permits and drawings and all of that comes together. Then you’ve got about 30 months that it will take to build a full elementary and turn the key on that. Well, this growth is pressing us now … The timing is crucial and so this timing for Dressel, the board will have to take up the Dressel issue really within the next 18 months. We need to decide if there’s going to be anything on the ballot or not …”

While a bond issue would fund construction costs, an operational tax-rate increase would be needed to cover the additional staffing needed for the new building.

“It’s a bond issue on the building, but you have to staff the building because you’re really adding No. 6 elementary is what you’re adding …,” Simpson said, noting that while some teachers can be transferred to new building, other positions, including the principal and “ancillary support staff” will have to be hired.

“… So what comes out of that is we have probably have quite a sizable investment in personnel to bring that building into reality and so we have no funds for that,” the superintendent said. “We’re balanced right now. If somebody says, ‘Well, can’t you come up with an extra 15 FTEs (full-time equivalent) or full-time staff members to make that building happen …’ And the answer to that is, it’s not possible. There’s no way …”

Given the aggressive enrollment growth, “a relief valve” is needed, according to the superintendent.

“Dressel is really right up our forte in that we know how to bring that on line and how to do that well, and we can do that as cheap as anybody. But we just need to have a conversation with our community in the coming years …,” he said. “If you do the math on the months and the growth trend, something needs to happen — a relief valve needs to happen … In four years, we need to be cutting a ribbon, if we can.”