The possibility has been discussed for more than a year. Capacity issues and a planned expansion of the pre-K program is forcing officials to decide between adding onto elementary schools or expanding junior highs to accommodate an influx of sixth graders.
“As we move into 2021 planning, it's imperative that the board has discussion about this because this decision has many domino effects on other key considerations,” Superintendent Jeannie Stone said.
Over the next two bonds, the district intends to either rebuild or renovate each of its junior highs, all of which are nearing the end of their useful life, according to staff. Once these projects are complete, overflow at junior highs will no longer be an issue and space will be available at elementary schools for more pre-K students.
“Tonight we're going to ... ask [board members] to consider a paradigm shift, moving away from short term, Band-Aid fixes and consider ... long-range, middle school transformation,” Stone said.
A bond steering committee, made up of staff, parents and community members, has been meeting over the past several months to evaluate projects that could be included in the bond.
One project that will likely be included is a total rebuild of Lake Highlands Junior High, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Sandra Hayes said.
“Lake Highland Junior High was the worst, which is why it was targeted as our first really teardown and rebuild in the history of RISD,” Hayes said.
In addition to projects at junior highs, Brentfield and Mohawk elementaries are reaching capacity and will need more space, Hayes said. Big Springs, Bowie, Northrich, Stults and Thurgood Marshall elementary schools also need work, she added.
Most schools in the district need renovations—these are just some of the more urgent projects, Hayes said.
“There’s not a campus in the district that doesn’t need work,” she said.
The Newcomer Center, which all new students go through to enroll in the district, needs upgrades to remain operational, Stone said. The district hopes to build a Transition Center to support students who speak a English as a second language, she said. It is also interested in adding an employee daycare and wellness center, which is something staff has identified as a retention strategy.
The district could budget up to $750 million without raising taxes, but it does not yet know how much the projects will cost, Chief Financial Officer David Pate said.
The next step would be for the bond steering committee to make final recommendations to the board. From there, the board would vote to call a May 2021 election.