Why Building Capacity Should Be a Concern

I have made a big case in my letters to the editor about the capacity of the proposed school versus that of McCormick.  Unfortunately, there is not room in a letter to the editor for full explanations about this.  But I feel this is a critical issue and it isn't getting enough attention from the school board, administration and bond committee.  Many school districts have built schools in the past decade - meeting or exceeding Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) guidelines for new school construction - only to find that they wasted millions of dollars on projects that failed to meet the districts' needs.  I will provide examples and links to more information later on this page.  Let me start with a few common questions and answers and follow with an in-depth look at the issue. 

 

What do you mean by building capacity?

Building capacity is the number of students that a school building is capable of efficiently holding.  This number is determined by using a formula created by the OSFC based on the type of school (elementary, middle, high) and the area (square footage) of the building.  Over time, OSFC could change their formulas, which would cause a school building's capacity to change as well.  This can be necessary, for example, as technology evolves and more or less equipment is required in each classroom.

How do they determine what capacity a new school should have?

The capacity of a new school is based on enrollment projections.  The OSFC contracts out the process of making these projects to a company called DeJong-Healy, which is based in Dublin, Ohio.  DeJong-Healy is the exclusive contractor handling all enrollment projections for OSFC for districts throughout the state.  They provide a report that contains 10-year enrollment projections that is based on live birth data, historical enrollment, community school enrollment, open enrollment, community demographics, and housing information.  OSFC then uses the report from DeJong-Healy to predict how many students will be enrolled in a new building at the time that it opens. 

OSFC bases their financial assistance on this projected enrollment.  School districts are allowed to build larger buildings than the projections predict, but OSFC will not provide funding for more than they estimate will be required.  The biggest problem with this is that they make no allowance for error in the projection and also do not account for any potential growth in the future beyond the opening day.

Based on my conversations with the Superintendent and various bond committee members, Wellington's new middle school would be built to the projected enrollment and no larger.

What is the enrollment projection for the new middle school?

The DeJong-Healy report projects that there will be 447 students in grades four through eight in the fall of 2016, so that will be the rated capacity of the new building.  However, in the 2017-18 school year, the report projects an increase to 471 students - 24 more than the building would be designed to hold.  The full DeJong-Healy report for Wellington is found here.

 

So what is the problem?

There are several problems with this enrollment projection and the size of the proposed new school.  First, keep in mind that the DeJong-Healy report is just making a projectionAn educated guessA prediction.  I will discuss this in more detail shortly.  But specifically for McCormick, I believe this number to be too low.  Last school year, McCormick had 540 enrolled students.  That is 93 more than the new building will be able to hold.  If you look at the historical enrollment figures on this page, you will see that for the 17 years of data available on the Ohio Department of Education website, McCormick averaged 605 students per year.  That is 158 more students than the new building will be capable of holding.  Even by their own projection the building will be too small because in the 2017-18 school year, the middle school is projected to have 471 students. 

So the real problem is that if this issue passes and a new middle school is built, it could easily be too small from the day the doors open!  Then what happens?  I have not been able to get a clear, consistent answer from the administration about what would be done in this case.  The most likely scenario would be for the district to bring in modular classrooms (trailers) for use until a long-term solution can be found.  That long-term solution would most likely be an addition for the brand new building.  Where will the money come from for either of these to happen?  The district may be able to afford the modular units by making cuts elsewhere, but they will certainly be back to the taxpayers for more money if an addition is required.  Some people have suggested that the state would not allow this to happen and they would kick in more money for more space.  As you will see later on this page, other districts have found themselves in this position before and the state has so far refused to help, forcing them to go back to taxpayers.  Even if the state does kick in extra money for more capacity, it is unlikely that they would fund 100% of the expansion and at that point, the bond issue would already have been passed by the voters and could not be amended.

How big is a building with a 447 student capacity and what does it include?

A 2-story building built for 447 students would be 63,979 square feet.  Elsewhere on this site I use a figure of 62,968 square feet, which is considered the gross square footage that does not include vertical circulation (stairwells, elevators, and pipe shafts). 

Finding out what the building would include has been a struggle.  The district chose not to have any architectural plans drawn up until after the issue passes, so there are really no firm plans in place.  I pressed for more information because how can we be certain that a building of this size will work for the educational programming in Wellington?  We can't!  I am sure the state's minimum square footage allows a workable school building in some districts, but each district is different and may have slightly different requirements.  Finally, through a public records request that I made to OSFC, I was able to obtain a spreadsheet that gives more detail. Because of how this spreadsheet is set up it is difficult to post here on the website.  But I will give you some of the details that it contains.  Keep in mind, this is a draft, and is not all-inclusive of what would be in the building.

  • 17 core academic classrooms (900 SF each, which is the required minimum size, however the district could file for an exemption and get 19 classrooms of 810 SF each)
    • McCormick Middle School has at least 34 classrooms for core academic and special education (not including band and art)
  • 3 special education classrooms
  • A single principal's office (no room for an assistant principal)
  • A single music room
    • McCormick has a vocal music room and a band room.  There are four band classes, two choir classes, and at least three general music classes each day.
  • The gymnasium complex will include the actual gym, an office, a store room, and a single locker room.
    • How does this work with only one locker room?  Also, note that there are no restrooms or shower facilities for students to use.
  • No allowance was made for a stage to be built in the dining area.  We've been told the new building would have a cafetorium, but it still takes a stage.

As I said above, this is from a draft.  That means that in theory it could change drastically.  But for as much as I've looked at it, I can't figure out how it can change very much.  The spatial requirements (such as 900 SF per classroom) are dictated by the Ohio School Design Manual.  Some of these numbers can be changed a little - like applying for an exemption to reduce the classroom sizes to 10% below the minimum.  However, most of these numbers are not suggestions - they are requirements that must be followed to receive the state financial assistance.  As presented in the spreadsheet that I obtained from OSFC, the building is actually 545 square feet larger than allowed.  So although some things could change a little, there is no more space available unless the district chooses to fund additional space with local funding (no state assistance).

This leaves me with a number of questions:

  1. How are they going to squeeze students from over 30 classrooms into just 17 (or even 19) rooms?  They teach four subjects in each of the three elementary grades and five subjects in both junior high grades.  I believe that would require a minimum of 22 classrooms (12 elementary and 10 junior high).
  2. How are they going to make the music program work?  There are at least nine classes that need music education each day.  That will make for a tight schedule.
  3. A gym with only one locker room?  Aren't junior high students still required to dress for gym class?  How will they change if there is only one locker room?  Maybe take time from class to give the boys and girls each time to change before and after class.  And how about junior high sports.  Does the opposing team not need a locker room?
  4. I know most junior high kids don't shower after gym class, but no bathrooms in the gym?
  5. What are they planning for a stage?  We were told it would be a cafetorium, but no allowance has been made for a stage anywhere. 

Included in the bond issue is an extra $1 million to use for whatever the district deems necessary.  The superintendent has already told me that they plan to build board offices and a secure bus storage facility with a portion of this money.  I agree that both of those are needed.  They should also consider adding a central maintenance and grounds shop since that will be lost with McCormick.  But these three projects will probably take half of the million.  Perhaps the stage will be built with this money, but again, the district has not given any concrete answers about this.

 

Capacity Problems in Other Districts

As I've hinted at several times on this page, other districts have experienced problems with their building sizes.  Remember, DeJong-Healy created the enrollment projections for all of these districts and Wellington.

The Dayton Daily News has investigated issues of new schools being built either too small or way too large.  Their investigation focused on 28 districts around the Dayton area, but evidence also exists to suggest that these problems extend around the state.  Here are a few selected examples.

Trotwood-Madison schools closed two elementary schools at the start of school in fall 2011.  These two buildings cost $10 million each when they were built in 2006.  The state paid 56% of the project.  DeJong-Healy predicted the district would have 3,021 students in 2009-10, but instead had only 2,740 students.  This 9% difference combined with the district's inability to pass additional operating levies required the cost-cutting measure.

Springfield City Schools closed their Clark Middle School, which was built in 2005 for a cost of $10.1 million.  The school closed in 2009 after being open for just a few school years.  Ohio taxpayers paid 80% of the cost of this project.  Springfield's actual enrollment in the 2009-10 school year was 7,286 students - 23% less than DeJong-Healy predicted.

Tecumseh Local Schools built Medway Elementary in 2006 for $8 million.  OSFC paid for 77% of this cost of construction.  The school closed five years later and is now being repurposed for preschool and head start.  DeJong-Healy predicted Tecumseh's enrollment would increase by 11% to nearly 4,000 in the 2003-04 school year.  Instead, the district lost 13% of their students, meaning they had built far more school than they needed.

Between these three districts, $40 million in new schools have been abandoned at least in part because of faulty enrollment projections.  This Dayton Daily News article discusses this in more detail.

Huber Heights City Schools built five new elementary schools that opened in fall 2011.  The district had already been concerned about building for too few students and had added $1.2 million to their bond issue to add a classroom to each of the five buildings.  It wasn't enough.  On opening day, all five buildings were at or over capacity.  The district is pressing for OSFC to pick up $624,000 of the $1.2 million in extra classrooms that the district built and needed (the state had paid for 52% of the project).  They hope to get this money to use for renovating one of their old buildings to relieve the overcrowding.

Dayton Public Schools were predicted to have declining enrollment and built their high schools accordingly.  However, two years ago the district saw 378 new 9th grade students plus an additional 100 9th graders who came from charter schools that were closing.  These nearly 500 new freshmen were just the beginning of the capacity challenges for the district.  At least 12 of the 26 new buildings the district has built are above capacity.  This has resulted in additional busing costs to move students to buildings that had some extra space.  But this has only relieved some of the pain.

Whitehall City Schools' superintendent argued with OSFC that their enrollment projections were too low, but could not sway the commission.  The district built five new buildings for a projected smaller student population.  The three elementary schools in the district are over capacity by a total of 207 students.  This has forced situations like a kindergarten class with 35 students, which prevents teachers from providing adequate attention to each student.  Until the new high school opens, the district is housing 9th graders in an old elementary school that had been saved for use as a preschool.  Unless another solution is found, that old elementary school will be reopened to relieve the overflow of students from the new, undersized buildings.

Here is a Columbus Dispatch article about the Whitehall school capacity issue.

Here is a Dayton Daily News article about Dayton and Huber Heights.

 

What do we do so that doesn't happen here?

There are two possibilities.  First, if a new school is going to be built, additional local money should be obtained by the district to enlarge the facility above the OSFC recommended capacity.  This would be complicated if the bond issue passes next month.  Planning would begin soon after the issue is approved by the voters, but it would be months before the district could hold another election for more money.  Even then, convincing the taxpayers that more money is needed could be difficult so soon after they passed another issue.

The second possibility would be to proceed with the alternative plan that I have presented elsewhere on this site.  This would provide for about the same number of classrooms as McCormick presently has, would include a new cafeteria and kitchen, a new gymnasium (with two locker rooms and bathrooms), and a renovated auditorium as well as full renovation of the rest of the building.  Since McCormick has a capacity of 714 students, there would be plenty of room for the ebb and flow of the normal population curve.

How much would it cost to build a new school as large as McCormick?

There are many variables and no official answer to this question.  However, based on $234 per square foot (the approximate cost of the new building), we can assume that a full replacement for McCormick would be in the neighborhood of $23.6 million.  That is about $8.6 million more than the proposed facility and unless OSFC could be persuaded to help pay for that space, this money would have to be funded entirely by local taxpayers.  If this much space is desired, it would certainly be more economical to follow the alternative plan and renovate McCormick and rebuild the central section.

 

 

 


Disclaimer:This site is not affiliated with the Village of Wellington, Wellington Exempted Village School District, or Citizens for Wellington Schools.  This site is privately owned and maintained and all expenses are paid for out of my own pocket.  This portion of the website was created to bring all pertinent information to one place, because when I did my own research on the subject I found that the information being published is sometimes incomplete or incorrect.  I have been careful to verify as much of my information as possible.  The sources of my data can be found within the links on the Resources page.