Out of room in elementary buildings, board poised to commission feasibility study
Out of space at two of its elementary schools and faced with a high school operating in cramped quarters, the Port Washington-Saukville School District plans to commission a comprehensive study of its facilities that promises to spark discussions about a significant investment in school buildings and land.
The School Board is expected to act next week on a Building and Grounds Committee recommendation and hire an architectural firm to conduct the study, which is estimated to cost between $10,000 and $20,000.
The study is both a reaction to an immediate problem — Lincoln and Dunwiddie elementary schools in Port are at capacity — and plan for a future in which some facilities — Port Washington High School, for example — are no longer adequate.
“All you have to do is take a look at our kindergarten numbers to know we have a problem,” Building and Grounds Committee member Jim Olson said during a Sept. 23 meeting. “We have too many kids for the bricks and mortar we have.”
The study may prompt the first discussion about a referendum since 2002 with recommendations that could range from modifying and enlarging existing buildings to acquiring land and building new schools.
“Something will need to be done and the feasibility study will give us some direction in the form of sound, objective information about the future of our school district and our buildings and grounds,” Supt. Michael Weber said. “Then it will be up to the School Board to decide what recommendations, if any, it will be intent on pursuing.”
Studies commissioned in the late 1990s and early 2000s predicted the district would have needed an additional elementary school several years ago and be less than a decade away from building a new high school.
But enrollment projections, some of which were influenced by the since failed plans for a large VK Homes subdivision in Port Washington, didn’t come to fruition.
Now, however, years of flat or declining enrollment appear to be over.
“Six to eight years ago, we were still looking at declining enrollment,” Director of Business Services Jim Froemming said. “Now our enrollment is much more stable and increasing from the bottom up.”
That has put pressure on the district’s three elementary schools, evidenced by the need for a 10th section of kindergarten this year.
“Lincoln Elementary School is very, very tight. As a matter of fact, it is out of space,” Weber said. “Dunwiddie Elementary School is also out of space, and although Saukville Elementary School has space if we absolutely need it, that presents some serious challenges.”
Saukville Elementary School is the only school in the district that uses an open concept that lacks traditional classrooms.
A lack of space in elementary schools was one reason the School Board decided on a community-based approach to 4-year-old preschool when it created the program in 2008. This year, 160 preschool students are attending classes at five privately owned day care centers and schools in Port and Saukville.
While school officials have praised the community-based approach, School Board members suggested the study provide options for educating 4-year-old children in district buildings.
Port High presents different challenges. Opened in 1931 with a single building, the school at 427 W. Jackson St. was expanded multiples times over the last 82 years to become a conglomeration of adjoining buildings with football and baseball fields and a track to the west.
Previous studies have observed that the high school is ideally located near the center of the city where sidewalks and other municipal infrastructure provide safe and efficient means for students to get to and from school.
But space, not necessarily in classrooms but in terms of property to accommodate all the functions of a modern high school, is a problem, according to those studies.
The high school site is just more than 12 acres, tiny compared to the minimum 75-acre sites that are recommended for modern high schools, Weber said.
The school has made do by locating some facilities off site. The swimming pool and soccer field are at nearby Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
But the school is being “taxed beyond its limit” by the demand for space both inside and outside its buildings, said Weber, who noted that it houses the only full-sized gym in the Port-Saukville area, one that is also used for city activities.
“One of the past studies praised the school for using what little space it had so efficiently, but the question now is do we have adequate space to facilitate 21st century learning and are we using what we have as efficiently as possible,” Weber said.
If approved by the board, the study is expected to take between one and two months to complete.