A projected increase in the student population at Platte County R-3 has brought with it an escalating demand for a new middle school, school officials say.
In 2012, Platte County R-3 had 3,666 students and operated six schools. Today, the K-12 student enrollment is 4,217 and there are seven schools including, the Northland Career Center, which serves seven Northland school districts and 13 Sunday night school programs. The district serves another 61 students at its Great Beginnings Preschool.
While overcrowding is not an immediate concern, district officials say they believe planning for future enrollment and addressing facility equity challenges are justifications to move forward responsibly.
Recognizing this, the district is breaking ground on a brand new middle school.
“The new middle school is an exciting project that not only addresses growth needs, but also provides a high-quality, comprehensive middle school for our students in the southern portion of our school community. This middle school will support our full 6th through 8th grade curriculum as well as all middle school extracurricular activities,” said Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik.
The new middle school will be constructed at 9400 N. Platte Purchase Drive off of Hwy. 152.
District officials say the 93,000 square-foot facility will feature classrooms supported with an adjacent collaboration area, which will foster hands-on and exploratory learning. The architecture of the school resembles modern design concepts and style, including a state-of-the-art media center, full-sized gymnasium and commons, outdoor learning space, and flexible auditorium. Given that school activities and sports are a big part of the overall student experience, the facility will have a school track and field area.
School officials say the middle school is designed to serve anywhere from 500 to 600 students with the possibility to expand.
Laura Hulett, director of communications with the Platte County R-3 School District, says the first construction package for site work and structural work has been approved and a groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 9400 N. Platte Purchase Drive, Kansas City.
“As part of the 2021 No Tax Increase Bond Program, the new middle school helps to provide necessary educational space to accommodate projected enrollment growth, addresses facility equity challenges at the middle school level, and helps to establish a balanced transition for students from elementary school (K-5) to middle school (6-8) to high school (9-12). It was part of our Long-Range Facility Plan Task Force recommended priorities,” said Hulett.
As a parent, Hulett said she is excited the new school will have a flexible auditorium, which will better serve students and their parents attending after school recreation and performances.
“With the odd (geographical) shape of our district and the space between our two attendance centers, it doesn’t make sense for our parents to drive that 14-mile stretch, rather than go to the school nearest to them,” explained Hulett.
The building site is part of an 80-acre tract of land gifted to the district by M.D. Management that will be master-planned to house the PCR-3’s second high school in future years, said Hulett.
While the developer did attach a stimulation that requires the district to build a high school on the donated land within the next 20 years, the district does have the opportunity to purchase the land if the district does not meet its conditions.
“The new middle school is scheduled to be open and ready for the start of the 2023-24 school year,” said Hulett.
The district will redraw boundaries, which will determine which schools will serve the various neighborhoods.
“Students will be selected to attend the new middle school, as well as Pathfinder Elementary, and Barry School by developing boundaries that define attendance areas,” said Hulett. “This boundary development process will begin in early 2022, and will consider enrollment balance, socio-economic balance, transportation distance, maintaining neighborhoods and subdivisions, and future growth considerations.”
The boundary development process and school naming process will occur simultaneously. Finding a suitable name for the new school will be conducted in a transparent manner. The school naming process is set to begin as early as this spring and will include “public input and a committee’s recommendation to the board of education.”
Some observers say in the 12 months leading up to the Nov. 10 groundbreaking, the district’s enrollment has increased by merely 12 or so students. They point out current enrollment numbers fall short of earlier predictions.
Hulett recognizes that over the past couple of years the district’s enrollment growth has not matched its enrollment projections, but says school officials believe enrollment numbers will turn around as the coronavirus recedes.
“Across many public school districts, they are seeing that trend with the less than convenient learning modalities and mitigation strategies that we need to do for this COVID pandemic. However, with the planned growth in that area of our district it is going to be a matter of time before the pandemic is done, hopefully, and then we will see increased enrollment again.”
The perceived need for a new middle school also reflects the varied demands placed on elementary and middle schools partly because of aging buildings and size restrictions. Currently Pathfinder Elementary, one of the three elementary schools in the district, only serves kindergarten through fourth grade students, rather than its K-5 counterparts because there isn’t enough space to serve all six grade levels.
Basically, the new school will allow the district to repurpose Barry School as an elementary school.
“This project not only plans for our future but helps us to develop a unified transitional feeder pattern from K-5 to 6-8. So, Barry School, which now serves fifth through eighth grade students, and Pathfinder Elementary will both become K-5 schools feeding into this new school,” said Hulett.
As we have seen throughout the district’s history, a patchwork approach has been necessary to address student enrollment growth. In recent years, the Paxton Elementary building, which previously served fourth and fifth grade students was repurposed and became part of the Platte County High School. That same year, the former Rising Star Elementary closed and the district opened Compass Elementary in Platte City.
As the groundbreaking event of Nov. 10 is set to occur, construction crews have been busy making headway on the first phase of rebuilding at the Platte County High School. The structural steel frame has been installed for the new-age classroom learning wing. About 30 days from now, construction of the cafeteria and commons will be well underway.
The other big project is erecting the precast wall panels for the new main gymnasium complex.
Construction crews should have phase one of the high school re-build project finished in December of 2022, officials say.