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Get out the ruler: Medford schools are growing

The Medford School District is taking a hard look at its expected enrollment in the next few years as it plans for classroom and other space needs.

At a special meeting Wednesday night, the Medford School Board approved an updated long-range facilities plan, which spells out school districts’ plans to deal with projected community changes (largely related to demographics and population) and resulting changes in its needs. Oregon Department of Education requires districts to update their facilities plan every four years; Medford’s deadline is Sept. 1.

Beyond making that date, district officials also wanted to establish an updated plan for meeting changing community needs for other reasons. The largest school district in Jackson County continues to project steady population growth, with the greatest impact expected at the elementary school level. Medford’s 14 elementary schools edge closer each year toward their maximum capacity, and they feed into two middle schools, shaping the district’s future building considerations.

“The good news is the Medford School District is growing,” said Michelle Cummings, chief academic officer, “and that is wonderful news.”

Ron Havniear, Medford’s facilities manager, and Brad Earl, chief operations officer, presented the board with information on projected kindergarten through sixth-grade enrollment for the upcoming school year. The data included where modular classrooms are helping to ease the pressure at schools, such as Hoover and Wilson elementary schools.

Including its modular classrooms, Hoover Elementary has the largest capacity of the elementary schools with 715 students; it also has the highest projected enrollment at 694 students.

Newer school buildings with more square footage often include a lot of common spaces, so they don’t necessarily provide more classroom space. Jackson and Roosevelt Elementary, which have two of the newest buildings, have the second- and third-lowest student capacities. The new schools have larger areas near their entrances for gatherings and space for smaller groups of students to work with specialists.

“The architecture has a lot to do with it, when they were designing, in terms of efficiency,” said Brian Shumate, district superintendent.

Havniear said that adding class space to existing properties has a finite impact. Students also need sufficient library, cafeteria and gymnasium areas, and staff need enough parking.

“Eventually there’s a sweet spot, a point of diminishing returns for how big you want your elementary schools to be and when you outgrow your core areas,” he told the board.

The facilities plan and the growing elementary enrollment issue feed into another set of considerations the district is navigating: when to create an additional middle school and whether sixth-graders will move up to the middle school level, freeing up space in elementary schools.

To deal with a projected 5,500-student population increase by 2035, Medford School District is considering building a new middle school or transforming Central Medford High School into one. Either might involve a significant capital project and may require a bond.

While school officials say decisions are still in the future, they are taking steps to explore their options. Approving the long-range facilities plan, for example, is one criterion for the district to apply for a grant through the Oregon School Capital Improvement Matching Program. If it went out for a bond, it could receive up to $8 million in matching funds through that grant — but only if voters passed a bond measure in an election within one calendar year of the application.

For now, district officials say, efforts such as the modular classrooms are short-term fixes. And this year, 205 sixth-graders will participate in sixth-grade academy, taking classes in dedicated areas of both Hedrick and McLoughlin middle schools. Based on feedback received through a task force on sixth-grade placement, Shumate and Cummings said the likelihood of changing to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school model is growing. But there, too, dates for roll-out remain undetermined.

“Timeliness is always going to be the question,” Shumate said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneRon Havniear, district facilities manager for Medford schools, shows a newly renovated room for sixth-graders at Hedrick Middle School.