Big changes are on the horizon for next year’s newest entries into the public education system.
The hot-button issue at the North Wasco County D21 school board meeting Oct. 24 was again the ongoing effort to bring all-day kindergarten to Colonel Wright and Dry Hollow Elementary schools by September of next year. Chenowith Elementary, the only D21 school to already feature an all-day kindergarten program, made the change by reorganizing existing classroom spaces, relocating services to other areas in the building and dividing up individual kindergarten classes. Unfortunately, such inexpensive fixes are not always an option.
Dry Hollow is the school faced with the most challenges to make “all-day k” a reality. The estimated cost for installing a modular at the school is around $230,000, as opposed to the $200,000 it would cost at Chenowith.
According to district Operations Director Dennis Whitehouse, the difference in numbers comes down to several factors.
The prospective location for installing modulars at Dry Hollow is on a slope located far enough away from the main building to make it harder (and considerably more expensive) to connect it to services than it would be at Chenowith. An additional complication is that the area that would be taken up by modulars at Dry Hollow could potentially infringe on existing playground space, whereas at Chenowith this would not be an issue.
The cost of building a new elementary school is too expensive in terms of the school district budget, board members agreed. However, the possibility of converting the currently empty Chenowith Middle School facilities into a functioning elementary school was another option brought into the discussion.
Based on the information contained in the last assessment of the building conducted in 2008, Whitehouse says it would cost about $8 million to get Chenowith Middle School up and running as an elementary school, versus the approximately $15 million it would cost to build new.
However, Whitehouse said these figures are based on old knowledge and are likely inaccurate, as it is still unclear whether or not the old middle school would even be able to house the number of students necessary to alleviate pressure on the district and create the needed space.
“We aren’t far enough down the planning road to say what’s the best or what’s the cheapest option yet,” he said. “So all the figures we’re talking about here are mostly cloud-building.”
Current plans state that Colonel Wright will become the second school in the district to offer an all-day kindergarten program by September 2014. As for the other schools, however, board members say the next step will be to acquire more information through a series of feasibility studies evaluating their current assets that will provide “more concrete” numbers to work with and a better sense of what can reasonably be accomplished within the next year.