YPS Superintendent talks about possible expansion project at York Elementary

YORK – It is very likely voters in the York Public Schools District will be asked to consider a bond issue for an expansion project at York Elementary School, sometime this year.

There is a great need for more room at the school, as the elementary population has steadily risen over the years, with a significant surge two years ago. There is also a significant need to have one location for early childhood education (pre-school).

The York Public School Board has been discussing this need for 5-7 years now, says York Superintendent Mitch Bartholomew.

“The reason is that the number of students at the elementary school grow every year, from 1 ½%-%3,” Bartholomew said. “And there was a really big surge two years ago, as we had to go to six sections of Kindergarten with each having more than 20 kids each.”

Bartholomew said the jump in elementary school population is due to several factors, including: more young families with kids are moving into the district and more young families are having more children in the York District (although that isn’t the statewide trend). He said they have also seen significant growth in some of their specialty programs – one example is their special education program, “which is a strong program at YPS and we’ve had families move to York because they want their student in that program.

“When that building was constructed, back in 1993, it was built for far less classrooms per grade level with a small handful of extra rooms,” Dr. Bartholomew explained. “It was also designed for what education looked like in the 1990s.”

As an example, schools in the 1990s had a specific room classified as a computer lab, which isn’t the case today.

“The handful of extra rooms are now classrooms,” in order to accommodate the much larger number of kids.

“Another aspect is that over the last 10 years, there has been a huge focus on pre-schools/early childhood education, which we are very supportive of,” Bartholomew said. “Early childhood programs can help identify students who may have learning struggles – we have support for them. And it’s also great for kids without learning struggles, as they are getting a jump start when it comes to reading, social skills, etc. For years, the school board has been looking to put all the preschool students in one building – right now, we have them in three different locations – we have one group at the high school; we rent the old dialysis center at the West View Medical Center; and we also have a section in York Elementary itself.”

He said the school board’s “number one goal, if the project would move forward, is to increase overall square footages as even the existing classrooms now are too small. And there are truly only two restroom areas in that entire facility.”

The increase in student enrollment at York Elementary has been considerable, according to population figures provided by Bartholomew: 1999-2000 school year, 447 kids; 2003-2004 school year, 482 kids; 2009-2010 school year, 490 students; 2017-2018 school year, 537; and 2023-2004 school year, 599 students. These figures don’t include any preschoolers.

The growth in the number of elementary-aged students has been so much the district, at this time, cannot accept any option-in students at the elementary level. Option-in students are kids who live outside the district but would like to attend school here. Option-in students can attend the York Middle School and the York High School, because there is room in those facilities – just not at the elementary school, at this time.

Some preliminary steps have been taken to look at undertaking an expansion project. The York School Board has contracted with an architectural firm to help design the scope of a project which would add square footage (likely about 70,000 square feet with 25,000 of those square feet being for a preschool area) and provide for remodeling (as 30-year-old existing systems like HVAC will need some work as well). They have also interviewed four construction management teams which the board will consider to help estimate the price and oversee the construction, if the bond would pass. If the building project would take place, there are expansion possibilities in the spaces west and north of the existing school.

“There have been questions as to why the board hasn’t looked at doing this earlier,” Dr. Bartholomew said. “They wanted to pay off a couple of bonds first. We recently paid off two and will soon pay off another. So they have been very fiscally conservative.

“We started to put committees together and we had a parent committee meet recently with the members being from a wide range of ages and situations,” Bartholomew said. “We talked about challenges and preliminary thoughts. The architects met with staff and they are looking at what education will also look like in the future. There was also a community survey conducted to help us to determine what we need now and into the future.”

Ideally, a target date for a public vote, regarding the bond issue, would be the May Primary, Bartholomew said. However, the dollar figure for that vote has to be determined by March 1 in order to be on the May ballot, which creates a tight timeframe.

“The board will determine if that timeframe would be the best decision, because we want to do this right. The board wants to have time to focus on the design,” he said. “We want to make sure our contracted firms have plenty of time to work on this, we want plenty of public interaction and we want to get all the information out to the public.”

But the Primary Election in May isn’t the only opportunity to take a vote of the people – the district can call for a special election or wait until the General Election in November.

“Someone from the public put it perfectly when they said we want to provide for the immediate needs now while also providing for the needs of the future,” the superintendent said further. “We want to make sure that we are prepared for elementary education in the years to come as well, while addressing immediate needs.”

 

 

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