1/29/14 Schools study building capacity needs for future

Schools study building capacity needs for future
By KAREN CARTER, Enterprise Editor The Mebane Enterprise 1/29/14  
Reprinted with permission.      

Mebane’s growth could prompt the local board of education to consider a land use study, said school board member Steve Van Pelt last fall.

Tom Hughes, SfL+a Architects, agreed with Van Pelt last fall when he presented findings to the school board on building capacity and an update on planning for school facilities since the last data and trends were compiled in the 2008 study.

In September 2013, the schools heard a report from Hughes on long range planning for facilities, including the possibility of building a new high school and what might be needed in the next 10 years as well for the elementary and middle schools in the Alamance-Burlington School System. The findings have led the school board to tackle the issues from several different angles, including transfer policies and programs that affect capacity.

Mebane’s growth has already played a factor in Orange County Schools considering a new elementary or middle school possibly near Mebane or in Mebane along Highway 70, as indicated by Orange County School Board Chair Donna Coffey at the joint meeting of Orange County and Mebane governmental officials in November of 2013.

The Enterprise reported in its November 20, 2013 edition that Orange County would be providing a preliminary report in the next few months, noting projections going five years out. The possibility of a new school was projected needed for 2022-23.

In Jan. 6 Mebane City Council meeting, two reports forecast the population growth in Mebane in the next 10 years from 12,000 (current population within the city limits) to 18,000. Both the city’s annual audit and a report on the Recreation Master Plan for the City of Mebane for the next 10 years projected the increase.

Last fall, Mebane City Manager David Cheek presented a Community Profile to the Mebane Business Association, based in part on the U.S. Census data, which indicated Mebane’s boom in the past 12 years at a 72 percent growth rate.

At the newspaper’s request, Jenny Faulker, Public Information Officer, of the Alamance-Burlington Schools, provided the Enterprisea copy of the schools’ 18-page building capacity report, which presents the historical data and offers recommendations on direction to further assess the facility needs of the schools.

The Report. Tom Hughes from sfL+a Architects conducted the study for the school system and presented his findings to the school board last September. According to the findings from the capacity study, Alamance County has seen a decrease in resident live births since 2008. The Alamance-Burlington School System has seen a decrease in in-migration since 2008-2009.

Hughes said, however, that Alamance-Burlington Schools are looking at 105 percent over capacity.
Among the high schools, Eastern, Southern, and Western are over capacity with no space to increase core capacity.

For example, Eastern’s capacity numbers are 985 but the study showed for 2012-13 1,182. What that means, said Hughes, as with dining, you start feeding kids earlier.

Hughes then advocated that based on the economy recovering, the schools might want to look at a land use study, especially in answer to needs about distribution and where students attend schools.

Southern showed a student enrollment of 1,479 for 2012-13 with a student capacity of 1,100.

Western had a student enrollment of 1,226 with a student capacity for 1,085.

Williams had a student enrollment of 1,112 getting near its capacity of 1,180.

“Overall, the high school system is approximately 400 students over capacity at its peak,” said Hughes.

“However one or more core facilities in most facilities are undersized for the student population and need further attention.”

Hughes did not say that the figures necessarily mandated a new facility, especially if “student served” centers such as the Career Technical and Education Center is factored in, serving over 900 students daily with two shifts.

Still the core capacity issues need to be addressed while Southern, Western and Eastern are operating at over capacity. And he said Eastern, Graham, Southern, Western and Williams are severely limited by their core facilities with no way to expand.

The study also looked at trends throughout K-12 and said there too core capacities need to be addressed.

Because of the “good things” happening in Mebane, Elon, and Burlington, he suggested the land use study.

Another factor to consider, said Hughes, is just how small or big do the schools want to be.

For example, Hughes said in a high school where the number of students attending are between 800 and 1200, there is a sense of belonging. “The principals know their students and their families.”

Patsy Simpson suggested the schools look at their transfer policies and re-districting issues of re-zoning before a new high school is built.

Hughes said the “out of capacity” figures would probably remain “flat” for the next two years.

“Because you’re flat, it’s a good time to look at this issue. There are still core issues at the elementary schools too, with energy and size.”

For example, the study showed that Garrett Elementary School has reached a current student enrollment for 2012-13 of 685, very close to the size of a middle school.

Hughes recommended the following for further evaluation: upgrade underperforming elementary schools with facility upgrades, review core and facility upgrades to middle school facilities, review core and facility upgrades to high school facilities and valuation of new high school in association with core facility issues, out-of-capacity, and alignment issues for re-distribution of high school student populations.