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Park Hill studying
its long range needs

Architects are presenting proposals

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor

At what point will the Park Hill School District need to expand?

That is the question district officials will try to solve over the next few months. Currently, the district has 10,684 students. Spread out over thirteen grade levels, that averages out to 808 students per grade level.

Kirk Horner, president of Hollis + Miller Architects, presented a guide for the potential construction or renovation of facilities to meet the growing needs of the district over the next 10 years.

The long range facility planning guide Horner introduced to the Park Hill School Board Thursday night reflects the potential growth of the district.

Each year, district officials conduct an analysis to determine future enrollment projections. Dr. Paul Kelly, assistant superintendent for business and technology, said in a few months the district will be better suited to present future enrollment projections to the school board. At that time, the school board will use the information as a guide to determine the effect future enrollment will have on the district and potential long-range plans it will need to adopt.

Earlier in the process, Hollis + Miller met with school leaders and asked for their sentiment to better evaluate what the district deems as an appropriate square footage per learner.

According to that assessment, Park Hill High School, Park Hill South High School, Plaza Middle School, and one elementary school are currently operating at a level over capacity.

“We do have some children meeting in common areas during the day,” Dr. Brad Kincheloe, principal of the Park Hill High School.

But Park Hill is not alone. Several others districts in Missouri have reached capacity and have chosen to build on as needed.

Most high schools in the region, said Horner, cap at around 1500-1600 students. It will be the district's discretion to determine what range is deemed appropriate, he added.

“As I look through the high schools throughout the state of Missouri, there are very few high schools that have a population of over 2,000 students,” said school board member Boon Lee. “Blue Springs is probably the closest one that we have. Of the 19 school districts that you looked at, how have they accommodated over 2,000 students?”

Horner said the Blue Spring School District renovated a ninth grade center, which will eventually morph into a third high school.

“That is their steppingstone to making that happen,” said Horner.

Horner signified 13,000 students as a key milestone for the district. Todd Fane asked given the current trend, when exactly will the district reach that number.

Kelly said if the district continues to add 150 kids a year, then the district would reach that figure around 2030.

“I want to think about the future, but are we being too futuristic by jumping from 10,684 to 13,000 and is there a better way to stage this?” questioned Fane.

Fane pointed out that other districts have successfully designed additional programs to deal with capacity issues.

“I know that more of our high school seniors are graduating early. That is a trend. I know that the Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies is taking students out of our schools at least half of the time. I just wonder if programmatically there aren't decisions that are being made to reduce the traditional capacity that we are diagraming here. It is a question that I think we should dig into a little bit,” Fane said.

If the plan is based on enrollment rather than a chronological date, then the long range facility plan the district's decides to implement will work, said Horner.

“If and when we get to 13,000 students we've got to accommodate approximately 4,000 high school students somewhere, somehow,” said Horner. “At the middle school level, there will be 3,000 students.”

Horner discussed several long range facility plan options, including an option to reduce the current enrollment at the high school level.

Over the course of the next few months, the district will continue to boil down the criteria that will advance into the final development of the plan. Overall cost and favorable enrollment numbers have been identified as factors of the criteria. The district will host a public forum and solicit feedback on the options as they exist at that time.

Dr. Kelly said he will present a final recommendation to the board in March.

Boon Lee requested Hollis + Miller provide an estimate of the cost associated with each long range facility plan.

“We want to solicit public input and so forth, but at the end of the day the seven school board members will be responsible for the financial position of the district. So while we solicit public input and that is important, I don't want the sentimental values that patrons have to override cost factor,” said Lee.

Park Hill Superintendent Scott Springston said the district will engage the community.

“As this evolves into narrowing down those options, we are going to have to vet the community. I believe when we put out two or three options to the community, that is when we are going to get more engagement from the community,” Springston remarked.

The cost associated with the long term facility planning process is estimated at $34,440. The expense was approved by the school board in January of 2013.