by Debbie Coleman-Topi
A major construction project is well underway.
Platte County R-3 School District is in the middle of constructing a new elementary school, building additions and re-structuring of already-existing facilities.
District officials say they are responding to “a steady growth trend” and improvements are scheduled to be completed and ready for use by this fall, said Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik.
The changes are being paid for by a tax levy increase approved by voters in April, 2015.
The largest, most visible change is the addition of Compass Elementary, a new facility at 401 Kentucky Ave., Platte City, which will house up to 700 kindergarten- through fifth-graders.
Another change is a two-story, 21,000-square-foot addition to the already-existing Pathfinder Elementary at 1951 N.W. 87th Terr., Kansas City. That space will accommodate more students by adding 14 classrooms, a multi-purpose room and additional parking.
The construction and re-configuration at several buildings will not only serve the purpose of allowing for growth, but also will accomplish a district-wide move from elementary buildings that house one or two grade levels to a kindergarten-through fifth-grade model at all but one school, Reik said. That building, Pathfinder, will house kindergarten through fourth graders during the upcoming school year, but a lack of available land for expansion is preventing the elementary from accommodating fifth graders, at least at this time, said Laura Hulett, district director of communications.
According to the plan, Siegrist Elementary, located at 1701 Branch St., Platte City, will become a kindergarten- through fifth-grade school, she said.
District officials expect to take possession of the new building, the additions and renovations to existing buildings by this summer, allowing for additional preparations to be completed in time for the beginning of the new school year this fall, Reik said.
The changes are intended to deal with what district officials say is over-crowding at some schools and an overall doubling of students district-wide from nearly 2,000 to about 4,000 during the past nearly 20 years, according to the district website.
In addition, school officials say projections show a steady increase into the future.
Other changes include a re-structuring of the current 49,000-square-foot Paxton Elementary that will allow it to become part of Platte County High School. That school is located just south of the high school at 1601 Branch and Hwy. 92 in Platte City. District officials are in the process of drafting a master plan that calls for linking the two buildings sometime in the future, Hulett said.
A demographer was hired to analyze growth projections and the consultant demonstrated how graduation numbers can be a great predictor. This past spring, the high school graduated about 250 seniors but a large fifth-grade class of about 350 students this year indicates a greater number of graduating seniors by the time those students reach graduation in seven years, Hulett said.
She added that although the improvements will accommodate more students going forward, Platte County district officials are anticipating they will continue to grapple with a constantly-changing population well into the future.