by Stephanie Eaton
The Platte County R-3 School Board got a lesson in the district's growth management plan.
According to Platte County R-3 School Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik, the plan was to help the board begin discussion on what they hoped to see when it came to managing the school system's growth in the years to come.
During Thursday’s board meeting with a growth management plan, Reik told board members that the school system is facing continued growth and something needs to be done to address those issues.
Reik also said one way to address the growth is by building a new elementary school. He said the new school would allow for the closure of Rising Star and the annexation of the Paxton building by Platte County High School.
According to Reik, the school system was 103 students over “functional” capacity during the 2013-2014 school year. Currently, the school system is 217 students over functional capacity at the beginning of 2014-2015 school year. However, Reik said the numbers are changing daily.
Reik said his main areas of concern were Pathfinder Elementary, Barry School and Platte County High School.
Pathfinder is currently 70 students over functional capacity. Barry is currently 112 students over functional capacity and Platte County High School is currently 66 students over functional capacity, according to Reik.
When discussing student capacity, Rising Star was under student capacity.
According to statistics presented to the board, Rising Star has a functional capacity of 184 students, but has an actual capacity of 154 students. However, Reik said the board should not look at Rising Star as a long term solution to handle the district's capacity issues.
“It is not wise for us to consider that a long term or even a short term management solutions to our capacity issues. So in my humble opinion this functional capacity overstates our reality as we move forward in the future.”
Reik told the board that Rising Star was over 60 years old and only had 27,000 square feet. Reik said the school currently can only house a single grade because of its size. He said the site the school is located on is only 5.7 acres which does not allow for expansion at the site. He said even if school officials decided to rip down Rising Star and build a new school on the same site, it would not be able to handle a K-5 Elementary School.
“You need about 10 to 12 acres to fully develop a site,” Reik said.
He said if Rising Star was totally renovated it would cost the school system $7.2 million dollars. He also said if school officials would construct a new building the same size as Rising Star, it would cost $6.9 million.
Reik also told the board the district should not look at Paxton for growth issues facing elementary school students. Reik told the board that Platte County R-3 officials were also hoping to take away Paxton as an elementary school. He said they hope to make Paxton a part of Platte County High School to help face the growth issues facing the high school.
“Paxton is actually intended to be part of Platte County High School's management plan or long range plan to manage their growth or capacity increases. So it provides necessary capacity for the high school but it overstates our capacity at the elementary school level.”
Board member Gary Brown questioned Reik where the functional capacity numbers came from.
Reik said school officials hired a company, Hollis and Miller architects, to provide the school system with a functional capacity analysis. Hollis and Miller would apparently oversee construction of a new elementary school for the district.
Since November of 2013, Platte County R-3 has paid more than $750,000 to Hollis and Miller Architects for items listed on invoices as long range planning, capacity analysis, spatial assessments, facility assessment, renovation, master plan, high school assessments, capacity analysis, new elementary, miscellaneous services, and new elementary project.
In explaining why the district had used Hollis and Miller to provide the “functional capacity” numbers, Reik said it is because the origin of some previous capacity numbers was not known.
“We did not know if they came from an architect. We did not know if they came from a principal. We had some that we suspected probably did come from a principal. I think I have somewhere a capacity for Rising Star as over 200 somewhere down the line throughout our history and I can tell you that was probably provided by a principal.”
While Reik admitted that they probably could get 200 children in the Rising Star building, it was not the best idea for the school.
“Yes, we can get 200 kids in that building. It is just not functional by state standards,” Reik said.
Reik said the firm that provided the school system with the functional analysis looked at state standards, national square footage per student standards and used the school system’s visible maximum capacity. Reik said school officials took those three numbers and averaged them.
“It was recommended that once you get to that functional number that you consider scheduling concerns,” Reik said.
According to Reik, school officials believe they have functional capacity numbers that are reliable and they can be justified. He said if the board looked at the report from the firm, the school enrollment will continue to grow.
“We will continue to grow and there is no information that would lead us to believe that we would do anything but continue this trend,” Reik remarked.
Reik also addressed the issue of increasing the tax levy to pay for the construction of the elementary school and changes needed to be made to Paxton. School officials recommend paying for the project with a 20-year finance paid for with a tax levy increase of anywhere from 38 to 50 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
“I have a lot of people ask me why would a tax levy increase be necessary now when in past years we have been able to construct facilities without a tax levy increase.”
Reik said the reason that the tax levy increase would be necessary is because the district’s tax base (assessed valuation) is not keeping up with enrollment increases.
Reik told the board that he believes the construction of the new elementary school and growth increases need to be addressed now for several reasons. He said capacity issues facing the school system will not go away, construction costs are projected to increase and financing cost are also projected to increase. He said that by delaying the project it will compromise services and cost the taxpayers more in the long run. He also said the continued operation of Rising Star will require unjustifiable capital investment even for a short term plan.
If the school board agrees with Reik on the need for a new school being built, the deadline to put a tax increase on the April ballot is in late January.