Teachers and students in School District 114 in Manhattan are facing a severe shortage of space.
Just walk around the buildings in the neighborhood and the challenges are obvious.
Schools have converted its libraries, auditoriums and even a staff room into classrooms because there are simply too many students in too little space.
At Manhattan Junior High School, Katie Duff’s STEM class is set up near the school auditorium in a room that isn’t ideal for teaching her science lessons. When district officials visited her classroom recently, she told them about the limitations of the room and how she wanted to have basic tools so her students could apply what they were learning.
“The things I could do,” Duff said.
Still, she said her students were doing quite well with what they had.
But district officials are concerned about the consequences of the lack of space for students, as District 114 has seen a 44% increase in its student population since 2013.
District 114 Superintendent Russell Ragon said when he arrived in 2013 there were fewer than 1,300 students in the district. Now there are more than 1,800, with projections for more growth in the years to come.
That’s why in the June 28 primary ballot, residents will be asked to vote to allow the district to bond, or essentially borrow, up to $85 million to build a fourth school building. Officials said the money could only be used to construct and equip a new building, and any remaining money would likely be used to pay down debt.
The district has already received approval from the state legislature to guarantee the funds, a necessary step because the maximum amount is more than it would generally be allowed to borrow.
Ragon said if voters approve the bonds, it won’t change the district’s property tax rate. This does not necessarily mean that property owners will not see their tax bill increase, since other government agencies collect property taxes and assessed property values tend to increase each year.
Still, Ragon said the district is trying to be efficient with money and build enough additional space to accommodate what students and staff need now.
Each of the district’s three schools houses about 100 to 150 more students than they were built for, officials said. The district is adding up to 11 modular units to its existing buildings.
Kindergarten class sizes reach around 25 students each, which Ragon says isn’t ideal for giving students the individual attention they need.
“They will feel the effects exponentially over the next two years if we don’t do anything about spacing,” Ragon said.
In addition, some parents notice how the lack of space affects their children. For example, they don’t like the inconvenience of their children not being able to use their school library because another class is using the room.
“The thing they want back the most is school libraries,” said Christine Ruddy, director of human resources, communications and professional development for the district. “The library as they know it has been removed.”
The new building is planned on a site adjacent to the existing college. This will be the district’s new middle school and will accommodate students in grades six through eight.
With a new building, Wilson Creek Elementary would then have the district’s pre-kindergarten through first grade students and Anna McDonald would have students in second through third grade. The existing college would then house fourth and fifth year students.
If the bonds are approved, officials plan to begin construction later this year on the new building with hopes of likely opening for the 2024-25 school year.
The district will hold public forums for residents to learn more about the referendum on May 18, May 25, June 1 and June 15. All will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Wilson Creek Elementary School, located at 25440 S. Gougar Road. in Manhattan.