SUSSEX - The fate of a possible facilities referendum in the Hamilton School District remains unclear – at least for a few more months.
The school board on March 20 agreed to delay a referendum decision based on a report put together by the facilities advisory committee.
Comprised of about 50 members, the committee was tasked with researching the possible referendum following discussions that stemmed from a curriculum and instruction committee meeting in November.
Since then, the task force has studied and cross-referenced how the anticipated growth in housing in the community could impact future enrollment and the capacity of school buildings.
Based on the assumptions that planned residential development in the area could produce as many as 400 school-age children in the next few years, the committee put together several observations for the board to review.
Many respondents to a community survey were not aware of district facilities needs and potential solutions, so the committee recommended that the district provide information to the community and resurvey the community later this spring, public information and volunteer program coordinator Denise Dorn Lindberg said.
Yet the study did conclude there is a potential for significant residential growth in the next five years that could increase district enrollment by 70 or more students per year.
That would be a concern, as most of the classroom space district-wide is already being used near capacity.
Another concern noted in the survey was the high school applied engineering area, which has not been updated since the school opened in 1962 and includes obsolete equipment.
The committee reviewed a list of 13 potential facilities options to address projected growth and update high school programming.
After several meetings, the committee narrowed the list to $57.4 million of new or renovated facilities and $1.5 million in annual operational costs that breakdown as follows:
- A new intermediate school for all students in grades five and six. Space would be created at the elementary and middle schools by relocating grade five students from all four elementary schools and grade six from Templeton Middle School to a new school building. District storage would be relocated from the high school to the new school. Cost: $42.9 million.
- A new school could not open without additional operating costs to cover utilities, custodians, paraprofessionals, administration, guidance counselors, psychologist, social worker, office staff and health room. Cost: $1.5 million annually.
- High school expansion to alleviate capacity issues for the foreseeable future. Cost: $9.6 million.
- Renovation of outdated applied engineering classrooms. This project could benefit and create new opportunities for approximately 500 high school students each year. Cost: $3.6 million – renovation, $1.3 million – new equipment.
In addition to addressing capacity issues, Lindberg said the goal of both high school expansion and renovation projects would be to provide suitable classrooms and learning space that would enhance rigorous academic offerings, including applied mathematics and science, career training, vocational and technical classes, more curriculum choices and individualized learning opportunities.
Growing enrollment is not a new issue in the school district, Lindberg added, and the district has made several improvements to schools in the past several years.
Since 2013, Woodside and Marcy elementary schools have been expanded, the Hamilton Athletic Center was opened and the district added 10 classrooms at the high school.
But the elementary schools are close to capacity and even with the extra classrooms at the high school, Lindberg said three teachers operate from carts instead of classrooms.
“We have funded $13.2 million in projects, without going to referendum and without incurring debt, but our enrollment continues to increase,” Lindberg said. “As these students are coming our way, we need to have space for them and we have reached the point where we definitely cannot move forward with a new building without going to referendum.”
Once the level of community support for a potential referendum has been determined based on the results from information outreach and a second community survey, the facilities committee will present a final recommendation to the school board for consideration at a future meeting, likely this spring.