Come January, Elkhorn Superintendent Steve Baker will begin hitting the circuit of PTOs and other community groups.
He says he won't be out trying to sell the Elkhorn school district's next bond issue, although he acknowledges that won't be too far down the road.
Instead, he'll be talking about the growth the district continues to face — enrollment has doubled since 2004, and it's now the seventh-largest school district in the state with 6,800 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It tops 7,000 when pre-kindergarten students are included.
Baker also will be laying out a list of possible projects, with price tags. And he'll be collecting feedback to help the district hone the list.
The project list includes the addition of a classroom wing at Elkhorn South High School, which opened just three years ago, and land for two new elementary buildings and a third high school.
“We need land,” Baker said.
At the same time, he said, there is no hurry to build a third high school. Nor are there any plans to change high school boundaries.
Baker said the district would not build a third high school just to stay at the Class B size that residents favor. Elkhorn South was built to relieve crowding at Elkhorn High, which had reached 1,350 students. The district also sought to provide more opportunities for students, given district data indicating that students involved in activities get better grades.
The planned addition at Elkhorn South would take that school's capacity from its current 1,000 students to 1,500 students, at a cost of $9.3 million.
The possible project list also includes security upgrades for a number of schools, including closing open-classroom layouts in two elementary buildings and moving offices to the front entry in three schools.
The total cost for all the projects on the list is estimated at $41.4 million, with no new schools. Adding the construction of one elementary school would bring the total to $54.2 million. Building two elementary schools would raise it to $66.8 million.
Baker talked in November about building plans with school board members and district administrators. What prompted the most discussion among that group were two proposals: to add a swimming pool at Elkhorn South and to replace wood chips at all elementary school playgrounds with a rubberized surface.
Elkhorn high schools' combined swim team currently practices at Elkhorn Common Ground. With nearly 60 swimmers, it's getting close to the maximum number that can safely practice at one time, Baker said. Because swimmers typically practice twice a day already, there's no easy way to divide them up.
But one administrator expressed concern about the cost of a pool, nearly $6.7 million, noting that the district wouldn't want it to sink a potential bond issue.
In the Millard district, turf practice fields became a target for opponents of a proposed $140.8 million bond issue. Voters in that school district turned down that bond issue in 2011. In May, Millard residents approved a scaled-down $79.9 million package that included security measures, additional classrooms and infrastructure upgrades. But no turf fields.
Baker said a pool could be used by the entire community. It also could be placed in a separate bond measure, he said.
The other question for the district to consider, he said, is what it will do regarding pool space when it someday has three high schools.
Other school officials asked about the necessity of resurfacing playgrounds, a project estimated to cost $1.2 million.
Baker said rubberized surfaces have become increasingly common. And the surfaces increase accessibility. While playgrounds must now have accessible entry points for disabled children, a rubberized surface allows such children to go nearly anywhere on the playground.
Keeping playgrounds covered with wood chips also comes with a cost. Replacing them with rubberized surfaces would produce savings in the long run, Baker said.
Security-related projects are among the $5.5 million worth of proposed updates at Elkhorn Middle School, which also would get an auxiliary gym.
Unlike other district middle schools, it has only one. Instead, the school uses space in a nearby building called the Cafetorium. The district would like to repurpose the Cafetorium space, which would be a separate project. With growth in teacher ranks, the district needs a larger space for teacher meetings.
Elkhorn High School also would see $3.6 million in improvements, including technology and kitchen updates and science room renovations.