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Growth seen for Medford student numbers

The Medford School District is predicting sharp enrollment increases at some schools over the next two decades because of a mini-baby boom among Hispanics.

A study presented to the Medford School Board this week predicts the need for at least one new elementary school and possibly a new middle school to accommodate an expected increase of more than 1,600 students.

As part of the district's long-range facilities plan, administrators contracted with a Portland strategic planning firm to study the area's demographics and available land to predict enrollment for the next 10 to 20 years.

The study, by Johnson Reid Land Use Economics, predicts that within the next 10 years, 10 of the district's 14 elementary schools will exceed capacity. Some of those schools are expected to receive several hundred more students than they can hold.

"With our current structure, we would need another elementary school," said Mark Button, facilities manager for the district. "That's what the study comes to."

While presenting the study to the School Board Monday, Button cautioned that while the forecast is as accurate as possible, demographics and land-use projections are not perfect, and the results could shift in the coming years.

"The dynamics change, and that's why it's reviewed annually," said Button. "We're trying to provide some kind of projections."

The study focused in part on birth trends and female fertility rates, which have been on an uptick because of the increasing Hispanic population in the Rogue Valley.

Between 2005 and 2011, local birth rates were 19 percent higher than in 2000, which Johnson Reid said is related to a 65 percent increase in the Hispanic population.

"Taken together ... demographic growth translates into noticeable capacity concerns for the district," the study said.

Hoover Elementary in southeast Medford is expected to have the most enrollment growth. The school, which has about 600 students, is forecast to have nearly 1,000 students by the end of the decade. Over the last six years, Hoover's enrollment has grown by 25 percent, significantly more than any other district school.

The study showed that while the fertility rates of potential mothers are average in the Hoover boundary area, more than a third of the district's vacant land surrounds Hoover, which could attract a high number of families to the area.

Though the school has already reached or exceeded its 607-student capacity for the last couple of years, the capacity is based on ideal class sizes of 25 students, not on actual class sizes, which average around 30 in Medford elementary schools. Because of this, several Medford schools already exceed their capacity.

Student enrollment at Oak Grove, Griffin Creek, Jacksonville and Lincoln also are expected to grow, the study said.

Depending on how much enrollment actually increases, the district may be in need of a third middle school as soon as 10 years down the road.

The district's updated long-range facilities plan suggests that the district find suitable land on both the west and east sides of Medford for potential new school sites within the next decade.

Button predicted that one new elementary school would cost the district about $18 million.

"Boundary changes are the first thing that came to my mind," said board member Sally Killen, who questioned the feasibility of changing boundaries to ease the hardship of increased enrollment on some schools.

Button said that as enrollment increases, boundary changes and modular classrooms could provide short-term fixes until a new school could be built.

"We'll have to look at all the options," said Button, who predicted that within a couple of years the district will be able to determine whether the study's predictions are coming true.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.