New elementary should be built on Dressel site, committee says

Recommendation set to be presented to school board at its January meeting

A Lindbergh Schools committee recommends that a new elementary school be built on the Dressel School property to address the district's enrollment growth.

A Lindbergh Schools committee recommends that a new elementary school be built on the Dressel School property to address the district’s enrollment growth.

By Mike Anthony

A Lindbergh Schools committee studying how the district’s aggressive enrollment growth should be addressed agreed last week to recommend building a new elementary school on the site of Dressel School.

By consensus, the District Growth Committee agreed to recommend a new elementary school be built on the nearly 10-acre Dressel School site, 10255 Musick Road. The district closed on the $1.94 million purchase of the property in July 2011.

The committee is chaired by Chief Finan-cial Officer Charles Triplett and co-chaired by Brian McKenney, assistant superintendent for human resources, and Karl Guyer, executive director of planning and development. The roughly 25-member committee is comprised of district staff, parents and business representatives.

To address the district’s increasing enrollment, the Board of Education voted in June to establish the District Growth Committee, which conducted its first meeting in October.

The recommendation to construct a new elementary school on the Dressel site came at the end of the committee’s Nov. 4 meeting, following a roughly 30-minute period for small-group discussion.

Committee members broke into five groups to discuss seven options to address the enrollment growth.

The options, which had been presented at the previous meeting, included:

• Increasing class sizes.

• Reorganizing grade-level configurations. For example, adding fifth grade to the middle schools.

• Adding additions to existing schools.

• Adding an elementary school.

• Adding mobile classrooms, also called trailers.

• Renting classroom space.

• Reconfiguring current classroom space — for example, “art on a cart.”

Before each group voiced its recommendation, Triplett said, “… We’re looking for consensus and consensus just means that a majority of people kind of go with one of the choices and those who aren’t in that ballpark at least aren’t incredibly opposed to it …That’s what we’re looking for tonight.”

Each of the five groups recommended a new elementary school be built on the Dressel site, though one group said its recommendation was not unanimous.

Joe Marting, who recently retired as pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church, reported on the outcome of his group’s discussion.

“… To be quite honest, we only came up with one solution — one solution given the priorities that we were given,” he said. “What’s best for the kids? We asked ourselves: When was the last time that this school district built a new school, a whole new elementary school for the children of this community? I don’t remember when it was and I’ve been a part of this community for over 31 years.

“Our only solution, given the fact that we’re the No. 1 district in the state for four years, that Crestwood within our district … was named the best city to raise a family, we figure what’s best for our children is to do the best thing and that’s to tear down Dressel, build a new school — state of the art, top-flight school — and put it right out there and do what’s best for our kids,” Marting said.

“There’s no other solution in our group that we think we can do and meet the criteria set before us. And let me say this, as a disclaimer. I’m a retired person. I’m not paying for my own kids, but I think it’s the best thing for this community, and that’s the consensus of our group …”

Dave Reinhardt, Long Elementary School PTO co-treasurer. said of his group’s recommendation, “… Our No. 1 (option) was build a new school on the Dressel property.”

Questions raised by his group included the time line for such a proposal and the process by which a bond issue would be placed before voters, he said. Lindbergh purchased Dressel roughly two years ago, Reinhardt said, adding that if the site was not utilized for a new elementary school, the wrong message could be sent to the community.

“… It was bought by Lindbergh a couple of years ago,” he said. “So we were thinking to ourselves if we don’t utilize that space, what are the voters or what are the people in the district going to say? …”

For the next step, Triplett said a small subcommittee of community members — not staff — of the District Growth Committee will be established to draft and present the panel’s recommendation to the Board of Education.

“… It is just a recommendation, but I know the board is eager to get one to see what direction you think you, the community, want to go with this, because that’s really where it’s going to be, is the community has to support it,” he said. “We won’t have 100-percent support. We know that …”

As proposed, the subcommittee will make its presentation to the Board of Education in January.

Regarding Dressel, Reinhardt later asked Triplett to elaborate about why the building was purchased.

“… (Lindbergh) knew it needed space and hoped the community would support putting a new elementary school there,” Triplett said.

McKenney said, “Another answer to that, too, is it was a very rare circumstance that a piece of land that big became available and the Lindbergh School District had a steal of a price …”

As for the future, McKenney noted, “… This will not be the last committee that meets to talk about the future of this plan … There will be more committees to meet to talk about the interim, what to do in the interim, how the building will be designed, that kind of thing. So this is a very preliminary first step.”

During the committee’s October meeting, McKenney outlined how the district’s residential enrollment increased by 569 students from 2007-2008 to 2012-2013.

During that time, Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp. enrollment declined 274 students because of Lindbergh’s decision to phase out its participation in the student-transfer program. As a result, the net enrollment growth over the past five years has been 295 students.

Lindbergh’s official enrollment for the current school year is 6,115 students, which exceeded the district’s projections by 50 students, according to McKenney.

For the next five years, the district is prepared to address the enrollment growth at Lindbergh High School and the district’s two middle schools — Sperreng and Truman.

But the growth is creating a problem at the district’s elementary schools.

Four elementary schools — Sappington, Concord, Long and Crestwood — are designed for 500 students each. But three have exceeded their capacity — Sappington with 621 students, Concord with 577 students and Long with 551 students.

Crestwood is nearing capacity with 482 students, while Kennerly, designed for 450 students, exceeds capacity with 462 students.

From 2013 to 2018, McKenney projects residential enrollment will increase by 464 students, not including an estimated 120 additional students from new subdivisions being constructed.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to correctly attribute comments made by Dave Reinhardt, Long Elementary School PTO co-treasurer, at the District Growth Committee meeting,