Medford School District officials are planning a $2.25 million project to expand Griffin Creek Elementary by three to four classrooms in 2018 to accommodate the school’s growing student population.

Griffin Creek Elementary is the third largest school in the district, with about 583 students, and is one of the oldest facilities. It was built in 1902, partially rebuilt after a fire in 1969 and renovated in 2007.

A 2016 demographic study showed that Griffin Creek likely will experience significant growth in student numbers in the next few years, related to new construction in the area between Columbus Avenue and Kings Highway and Stewart Avenue and South Stage Road, said Brad Earl, the district's chief operations officer.

Since implementing full-day kindergarten two years ago and adding teachers last year to reduce class sizes, the school is utilizing all of its classrooms and even installed partitions in one to serve as a small group learning space. Music classes have been taught on the school’s stage, which is not ideal, Earl said.

Recognizing an immediate need for more space, district officials pitched their expansion plans to board members at a June 12 work session, and the board agreed to the plan Monday night.

Once he's given the go-ahead, district facilities manager Ron Havniear will finish working with building designers, meet with county planners and get the appropriate permits, Earl said.

“Realistically, we’d break ground early next year and shoot for completion by August 2018 so it can be used for the 2018-19 school year,” Havniear said.

“But that is an aggressive schedule with a lot of variables, and a lot of assumptions that have been made,” he added.

The district hired an arborist to assess the health of about nine large maple trees that are in the proposed construction zone. Of those, six will have to be removed because they are showing signs of decay, are distressed because of past construction, are in the way of the new construction or are a tripping hazard for students, Havniear said.

The district will plant new maple trees on the west side of the playground to provide additional shade and landscaping, he said. And about four or five small play structures also will have to be relocated.

The project, which will include pouring new asphalt in the playground area and paving the north staff parking lot, is expected to cost between $2 million and $2.25 million, including contingency, Earl said.

State officials have informed the district that the state’s K-12 budget, which has not yet been finalized, may be more than was originally projected.

“Some of that additional money, we could put toward this project and finance the rest . . . to preserve some cash for immediate investment in student-based programs,” Earl said.

As the project was not included in the district’s 2017-18 adopted budget, it would require the board to pass a budget amendment.

In 2015, the district purchased modular units for Hoover, Jackson, Lone Pine and Wilson elementary schools in order to meet the deadline for full-day kindergarten. There wasn’t enough time and, in some cases, enough space at those schools to consider an addition such as that proposed for Griffin Creek, Earl said.

If the district were to move sixth-graders into the middle schools, it would free up three classrooms at Griffin Creek. But no decision has been made on that subject, Earl said.

“I think in the next three to five years we’ll see a lot of kids coming in there, so I think that even if the sixth-graders move out, we’ll need those classrooms,” he said.

District officials believe the school has sufficient room for one more school year and, if necessary, can turn the computer lab into a classroom.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.