Steady growth is something that schools desire. With funding based on enrollment, slowly growing numbers allow for schools to provide necessary services, hire teachers, and pay the bills. But eventually that slow growth catches up to you and space becomes an issue. That’s the situation that Marietta Public Schools currently find themselves in.
“We don’t have a single empty classroom,” said Superintendent Brandi Naylor. “Every classroom on campus has a teacher in it every day.”
For the past several years, the school’s enrollment has been steadily rising, and they’ve now got some big groups in the system comprised of more than 90 students per grade level.
And classrooms aren’t the only places that are feeling the squeeze of too little space.
“We have people officing out of closets and storage rooms,” Naylor explained. “There are no-cost programs and vital student services coming into our district and needing office and conference space, but we have nowhere to put them so it’s sometimes very difficult for them to provide these much needed services for our students.”
Currently, if the district were required to add additional counseling services or other mandated programs, they’d have nowhere to put them.
Additionally, although the district does have some students in the virtual education program because of the pandemic, eventually they may return to in-person learning. With classes at or near maximum sizes, when that happens, finding a place for those students could be problematic.
“When the pandemic ends and some of the virtual kids come back to school, not only do we not have places for them, if we needed to hire new teachers to compensate, they would have to double up with other classroom teachers or hold class in the site library or auditorium which is not ideal for any classroom situation.” added Naylor.
Though the problems caused by overcrowding are campus wide, administrators and board of education members have met with consultants and architects and arrived at a solution that should ease the congestion: a new middle/high school building.
Proposed is an approximately 54,000 square foot, single story facility that would adjoin the current gymnasium and face Highway 32. The new building’s commons area would be shared with the gym lobby, with the project calling for renovating the gym lobby except for the restrooms, which are in good shape and don’t need to be replaced. The classrooms would occupy the parking lot to the west and south of the gym.
The combination middle and high school will be separated into wings with shared spaces like labs, office spaces and a library media center in the middle. Added safety features as well as tornado safe rooms are also part of the construction plans. Once the new building is complete, the current high school building would be demolished to create a parking lot that will service both the new building and the auditorium.
“Because it will be for the most part completely new construction, it won’t interrupt classes at all,” said Naylor. “The worst inconvenience during construction will be student parking and parking for basketball season, but that’s not insurmountable.”
The current high school was built in 1970
s and except
for the addition of four classrooms and some minor cosmetic remodeling, remains
as it was originally constructed.
“What we have from outward appearance is a functional, if too small, building, but it’s a 50-year-old building,” Naylor explained. “We’re trying to teach our kids how to live in the modern technological age in a building that was wired and plumbed 50 years ago. And because of the extensive rules on building codes including the Americans With Disabilities Act, if we just add on to any of the campus buildings, everything in that entire building must be brought into full compliance.”
To meet the current needs of the district, classroom space is needed at every site from primary to high school. Adding on classrooms to every building on campus would mean several separate construction sites instead of one. According to a facilities study conducted by the district last fall, with the additional cost of bringing every building to ADA compliance, the total cost of these additions would exceed the cost of the proposed new facility.
“We are at the point where we could spend millions of dollars updating a building that’s a half-century old and still not have an answer for the overcrowding campus wide,” Naylor added.
The original high school was built for an enrollment of 172 students, about 43 per class. Now, Marietta High School is 320 students strong, with a sophomore class of 93 students. That’s a big difference, and a good illustration of the need for a new facility.
Assuming the bond issue passes and a new middle/high school building is completed, that frees up the current middle school to become home to upper elementary students, which in turn frees up more space in the elementary and primary schools, easing overcrowding campus wide. Construction timelines are difficult to predict, but the preliminary data shows an 18-month completion timeline, allowing the first use of the new facility to occur sometime during the 2022-23 school year.
Although the approximately 16-year, $18 million series bond will require a property tax increase, the bite of the additional taxes should be a little less sharp when voters consider that the bonds the school currently has on the books will retire about the same time or shortly after this bond would become active. Since the total cost is driven by interest rates, exactly how much of a tax increase property owners will face won’t be official until closer to time to call the election, which will take place in December of 2020 with the proposition on the ballot in March 2021.
Also, if the new bond passes, it will not max out the school’s bonding capacity for the entire term, allowing smaller bonds to be proposed for necessary improvements in the future.
“We understand how much we are asking of the patrons in our school district,” stated Naylor, “but the need is there and it’s not going anywhere. Our school community has been faithful to support us, and we’re asking them to do it again, knowing that they want what’s best for our kids and believing they’ll come through for them.”