School facility options are numerous
Published 7:04 pm Sunday, April 12, 2009
JACKSON — The decision about any school closings or consolidations is now in the hands of the Northampton County Board of Education.
On Thursday evening at their regular meeting, board members were presented with several recommended options from the Facilities Task Force and an independent architectural firm, MBAJ Architecture.
Eight options were presented to the board for informational purposes. Northampton County Schools Assistant Superintendent Phil Matthews made the presentations based on the results from the Facilities Task Force and MBAJ.
Each of the eight options suggests the closure of at least two schools or more and consolidation for others.
The Facilities Task Force presented three prioritized options and MBAJ provided five, with the recommendation of two plans.
While the decision on any option, if any, is yet to be made by board members the facts about the operation of all the district’s schools is clearer.
According to an informational paper provided to the board, of the 10 schools currently in operation, four are below 60 percent capacity and another three are at or below 70 percent capacity.
The operational cost for the schools during the 2007-08 school year totaled $2.8 million, which amounts to 81 percent of the district’s annual local operating appropriation ($3.5 million).
Additionally, Northampton County Schools is experiencing a decline in student population and, therefore, ADM (average daily membership or student enrollment) funds from the state are shrinking.
According to the informational paper, teachers are provided by the state based on ADM and the projected student enrollment from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) for next school year (2009-10) is 2,459. The projected number allows the allotment of 122 teachers for the school district, a lower number than the actual numbers for this school year.
In recent years, Northampton County Schools has been providing their staffing needs by utilizing different funding sources or “soft money,” which is not guaranteed to reoccur.
Budget planning allotments from the state for next school year is approximately $750,000 less than previous years and the utilization of “soft money” is not a reliable option.
The Facility Task Force was formed upon the request of the board in order to get the community’s input on evaluation options.
Matthews said he began to organize the taskforce by contacting each of the 10 school principals were asked to submit the names of three individuals from the community to be invited to be a part of the task force.
In addition, members of county government agencies, religious community and county organizations were also invited to the table.
Matthews said in all, approximately 40 people were invited to be a part of the task force and in each meeting 20-25 people actually participated.
Three meetings of the task force were held in the month of March.
In the first meeting, the task force members were presented the facts and figures about the current situation facing the school system by Matthews.
He then presented 11 different organizational plans as examples of possible options to the task force members for study.
At the next meeting, after discussing/commenting on the 11 plans and answering questions, the task force was then split into three groups who were asked to choose organizational plans they could support, giving them six plans to work with.
The six plans were then placed on spreadsheets along with student attendance numbers and building capacity. The members were asked to prioritize the plans from one to six, with one being the best they liked and six being the least favorable.
In the third meeting, Northampton County Schools’ Finance Officer Joe Holloway tallied the sheets and the top three plans were noted in priority order.
Of those three plans, each call for closure of Rich Square WS Creecy Elementary School, Garysburg Elementary, the Alternative School and the partial or complete closure of Squire Elementary School.
Under the plan rated number one by the task force, Creecy Elementary, Garysburg Elementary, the Alternative School and all of Squire, with the exception of pre-K and Kindergarten, would close.
Northampton County High School-West (NCHS-West) would serve grades 7-12 as well as the western alternative program.
A western pre-K and Kindergarten center would be held at the current pre-K and Kindergarten rooms at Squire Elementary School.
First through 6th grade would be held at Gaston Middle.
Northampton County High School-East (NCHS-East) would house grades 9-12 with addition of the eastern alternative program.
Conway Middle would hold grades 6-8 as an eastern intermediate school.
Meanwhile, one eastern elementary school would combine Creecy Elementary with the current Central Elementary School in Jackson to house grades pre-K through 5th.
Another eastern elementary school would also be held at Willis Hare Elementary School in Pendleton for grades pre-K through 5.
The option to adjust district lines was also included to relocate about 90 Creecy and Central Elementary students to Willis Hare
Elementary School in order to balance ADM/capacity between the two schools.
The plan rated as number two by the Facility Task Force, would again close Creecy Elementary, Garysburg Elementary, the Alternative School, and all of Squire Elementary, with the exception of the 1999 building for pre-K.
As in plan one, NCHS-West would house grades 7-12 as well as a western alternative program.
Pre-K only would be held at Squire Elementary.
Western elementary would be held at Gaston Middle with grades Kindergarten through 6th grade.
NCHS-East would house grades 8-12 and an eastern alternative program.
Eastern intermediate grades (5th-7th) would be held at Conway Middle School.
One school with eastern elementary grades would once again consolidate Creecy into Central Elementary School for grades Pre-K through 4.
Another eastern elementary school held at Willis Hare Elementary would accommodate pre-K-4th.
Again, the option to adjust the district lines would be offered to relocate approximately 90 students.
The third plan, as rated by the Task Force, would completely close Squire Elementary as well as Creecy Elementary, Garysburg Elementary and the Alternative School.
The two high schools would house grades 7-12 along with their respective alternative programs.
Western elementary classes would be held at Gaston Middle with grades pre-K through 6.
Eastern intermediate classes would be held at Conway Middle with grades 4-6.
Again, there would be two eastern elementary schools serving pre-K through 3rd grade at Central and Willis Hare with Creecy Elementary being consolidated.
The option to adjust district lines to relocate Kindergarten-3rd grade students from Creecy/Central to Willis Hare to balance enrollment is also offered for this plan.
MBAJ Architecture did their own evaluation of the school system as well by visiting each school over a month-long period to gather data about each site. Collected was general information through interviews and assessments of the conditions of the school buildings and sites. Demographic and enrollment data was also collected and studied.
From their feasibility study, MBAJ presented the school system with five recommended options and recommended two.
Option one would close both Garysburg and Creecy Elementary Schools.
It would also convert Squire, Willis Hare and Central Elementary Schools to serve pre-K through 3rd.
Meanwhile, Gaston Middle would be converted into an intermediate school, serving grades 4-8. Conway Middle would go through the same conversion, serving grades 4-7.
The eight grade would be moved to NCHS-East and no changes would be made to NCHS-West.
Option two would close Garysburg and Creecy Elementary Schools.
Squire, Willis Hare and Central would become primary schools serving pre-K through 2nd grade.
Gaston and Conway Middle Schools would serve grades 3-6 and grades seven and eight would be moved to NCHS-West and NCHS-East.
In option three, Garysburg and Creecy would be closed while Squire, Willis Hare and Central Elementary Schools would be converted to primary schools to serve grades pre-K through 3rd.
Gaston and Conway Middle Schools would serve grades 4-6 and grades seven and eight would be moved to NCHS-East and NCHS-West.
Option four would close Garysburg and Creecy and convert Squire Elementary to a pre-K and Kindergarten Center, utilizing Buildings A and C at the site.
Meanwhile, Willis Hare and Central Elementary Schools would be converted to primary schools serving pre-K through 3rd grade.
Gaston Middle would also become a primary school with grades 1-3.
NCHS-West and Conway Middle would become intermediate schools with grades 4-8.
Grades 9-12 would be consolidated at NCHS-East.
The fifth option would close Garysburg and Creecy and convert Squire Elementary to a pre-K and Kindergarten Center, utilizing only Building C on that campus.
Willis Hare and Central would serve pre-K through 4th grade.
Gaston Middle would become an elementary school with grades 1-5.
NCHS-West would serve grades 6-12 as a secondary school. The report notes some re-tasking of existing vocational space would be required in order for the school to have a sufficient number of classrooms. With efficient scheduling and sharing of resources, the report states, this can be accomplished without renovation of the school.
Conway Middle would serve grades 5-8 and NCHS-East would remain grades 9-12.
MBAJ Architecture recommended the district to adopt option five or option three.