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How should Kingsport solve space crunch at middle/high school level?

CHRISTAN M. THOMAS • Apr 29, 2007 at 12:45 PM

KINGSPORT - May 15 marks a chance for Kingsport voters to elect three members to the Board of Education.

Those who want to vote early can do so through May 10 at the Sullivan County Election Commission Office in Blountville or - beginning Friday - at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium, 1550 Fort Henry Drive. The hours at both locations are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. until noon Saturday.

Vying for the three seats are three incumbents - current BOE President Dr. Randy Montgomery, current Vice President Susan Lodal and Wally Boyd - and one newcomer - Dr. John Hall.

The Times-News recently asked all of the candidates a series of questions regarding issues that are or will be facing KCS in the near future. Those issues include student population increases, use of technology and the possibility of consolidation.

This series will highlight the answers to one question each day.

Q. KCS expects to see continued growth in its student population from annexation and other factors. The proposed elementary school in the Rock Springs community will help at the elementary level, but what are the solutions for middle and high school in the future? Do you think the system will need to build additional facilities for middle and/or high school? Can current facilities be expanded, etc.?

Boyd: Taxpayers need to realize there are two factors that drive facility capacity: increased student population and pupil-teacher ratio mandates. Current population would be of little concern if we were still allowed to put 35 students in a single classroom. Fortunately, increased enrollment at middle and high schools rarely comes by surprise. We have advanced warning from our elementary numbers and the lead time of potential annexations.

That said, the proposed annexations will create a growing need for more space at our middle and high schools. Robinson is currently at student capacity but has room for some additional physical space. Sevier can accommodate about 50 to 75 more students but has little room to expand physically. Redistricting middle schools, therefore, would not be a permanent solution. At Dobyns-Bennett, there is some room to accommodate growth. The new structures that have been built for the arts and band programs free up space that can be renovated into new classroom areas. This renovation was actually cheaper than building new classroom space.

The time will come, however, when these measures will not be enough. Growth increases costs as well as revenues. If Kingsport is successful and fortunate enough to grow, we will eventually need a new middle school and high school. When this time comes, it will be important to work with the county closely to utilize existing facilities before building expensive, new facilities.

Hall: I believe that most of the current facilities are at their breaking point. We need to look at the number of "non-city" students that are attending the schools.

We also need to look at alternative methods of teaching such as 12-month schedules and overlapping days in order to utilize what we have.

We definitely should not increase the size of classes. We should also discuss with our teachers and principals ideas that they may have to help at their schools.

Lodal: Although Dobyns-Bennett is continuing to experience growing student numbers (1,866 as of April 10), the number of students entering from our middle schools will be decreasing slightly in the next few years. In fact, Sevier currently has 53 fewer students as compared to one year ago. This decrease will be short-lived when the current elementary students begin to move up through the system, but it does buy us some time to adjust to the changes through study and creativity. New housing developments and annexation plans will also provide an impetus for us to look at our middle and high school facilities.

We recently received a report on proposed annexations and residential developments from our staff, with estimates of students in those areas, where known. This information will be updated as it becomes available. We have discussed some possible locations for a future school in the Fall Creek area to help with the middle school population. In addition, suggestions have included a separate ninth grade facility, which would reduce the high school to three grades. Various configurations ... may also be considered. For now, we continue to look at ways to expand our high school facility, since that is where the crowding is most apparent. Moving the band and orchestra to the new instrument building has opened up space inside the main building. The purchase of the American Legion Building will allow some expansion into that area. Our plan is to eventually relocate the current Central Office so that this space can be renovated into additional high school classrooms.

If the student population of the city continues to grow, it will also behoove us to talk with the Sullivan County Schools and look for ways to possibly share facilities.

Montgomery: Several years ago a capital plan was developed to work systematically to meet the space needs in our schools. Besides renovating schools, classroom space was added throughout the grades. Recently, additions to Dobyns-Bennett have added approximately 80,000 square feet of student space … almost the size of an elementary school.

Identified in the plan was the need for an additional elementary school to meet the growing population. Soon construction will begin, and the school system will have new space to help with the pre-K through sixth grades. Also recognized was the future need for additional space in the middle school grades. Options include: additional classrooms at the present middle schools, an additional middle school, or an additional school with some grade reconfigurations. Presently we have a leveling of student enrollment in the middle schools, but the schools need to continue planning and looking at all options for ways to meet future space needs.

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