Sulser: Older schools too full

Posted on Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 10:36 am

Many schools are close to reaching 100 percent capacity in Hanover, according to enrollment and school capacities data from the school division.

But despite the data, Hanover schools still have room to grow.

“We are at about 85 percent of capacity across the county,” said David Myers, assistant superintendent of business and operations.

Norm Sulser

Norm Sulser

In order to have new school additions or expansions, School Board policy says a school must have a capacity of 120 percent or more for three years straight, Myers said. Instead, the school division’s focus is on maintaining and beautifying “existing buildings,” he said.

But some school board members are concerned with older schools being too full while newer schools have empty space.

Norman Sulser, Cold Harbor District representative, said this has been a problem for several years now and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

“We’re not going to sweep this under the rug in the back room,” Sulser said.

Sulser has suggested the School Board change current boundaries and move students from older, crowded schools like Lee-Davis and Patrick Henry high schools to less populated ones like Hanover High School.

As a solution, Sulser proposes the School Board focus on high schools first. At the moment, Lee-Davis is at 95 percent capacity with 1,573 students for this upcoming school year and a total capacity of 1,650 students.

Sulser’s solution would involve taking 200 students from Lee-Davis and moving them to Hanover High school, which would put Lee-Davis at 83 percent capacity and Hanover’s capacity would go from 76 to 88 percent, evening them out more than before.

Hanover High School, built in 2003, cost $37 million, Sulser said.

“If you take 25 percent of $37 million, you have $9 million sitting empty,” he said.

Sulser’s main focus is doing what’s best for not only the students and teachers, but also the county’s taxpayers.

Another older school, Patrick Henry High School, is at 89 percent capacity. Sulser recommends only 50 students be added to Hanover High School, which would put Patrick Henry at 86 percent. At that point, Hanover would have a capacity of 91 percent, which is still, less than Lee-Davis’ current capacity. Sulser believes all new schools should be at about 90 percent capacity.

“We’re not talking about moving large sums of students here,” Sulser explained.

If Sulser’s plan went through, seniors would not be forced to change schools, he said.

Some of the schools nearing 100 percent capacity are Chickahominy Middle School at 97 percent capacity and Washington Henry Elementary School at 99 percent.

Older schools like Mechanicsville Elementary School, which was built in 1964 and was last updated in 1985, is at 110 percent capacity as of last year, while Laurel Meadow, a fairly new school, is at 89 percent.

Though many schools are almost 100 percent full, there will not be any changes to school buildings as of now.

“No new schools are on the horizon for us,” Myers said.

At the Aug. 13 School Board meeting, the Board planned to address the current enrollment numbers and capacities but two members were absent.

The last time there was a major redistricting was when each new school was built. In 2003 with the construction of Hanover High School and in 2006 with Kersey Creek Elementary School and more recently in 2008 when Laurel Meadow Elementary School was built.

Redistricting is not popular amongst many citizens, but Sulser’s focus is not on popularity.

“I’m looking at what’s fair to students and teachers and taxpayers.” Sulser said. “No leader should make a decision on being popular.”

The topic will likely be discussed at the September meeting and Sulser said he plans to make a motion to do an “in-depth” study looking at all schools’ capacities to assess and decide on a solution because no students can be moved until the following year.

“We need to jump on this,” Sulser said.

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