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Superintendent Seeks Input on Building Capacity Needs

With two percent enrollment growth anticipated annually for the next 10 years and a high school facing capacity, Byron Center Public Schools Superintendent Dan Takens is gathering information and opinions about how to best address facility space concerns.

“If enrollment trends continue we are looking in four or five years at needing additional capacity,” he said. “We currently have 1,050 students at Byron Center High School and a capacity for 1,200,” he said, noting that up to 1,4000 students could fit if teachers shared classrooms.

Community members are invited to Board of Education forums on growth and capacity at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb 11 at Brown Elementary School, 8064 Byron Center Ave. SW; or at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 11 at West Middle School, 8654 Homerich Ave. SW.

“I want to hear the community’s thoughts on the planned growth of the district,” Takens said.

Nearly 800 community members (684 district parents and 164 staff members) recently responded to an online Growth Research Community Survey, which gaged opinions on how to address needs. Options considered included adding a second, smaller high school (it would not have separate athletic or co-curricular programs because of operating funding limitations); adding a freshman campus or wing to the existing high school, or separating high schools into two buildings, a ninth and tenth grade facility and a junior and senior facility.

A smaller 9-12 high school would not have separate athletic or co-curricular programs because of operating funding limitations.

Community members most favored the ninth-grade wing option at 72 percent and most opposed the new, smaller high school option with 76 percent not in favor.

Options to add capacity at the district’s elementary level include:

  • building a fourth elementary school
  • reconfiguring existing elementary schools, Marshall, Brown and Countryside, to house kindergarten-fifth grade students with Nickels Intermediate School, currently serving fifth and sixth grades, as a fourth elementary school and adding sixth grade to West Middle School;
  • reconfiguring existing elementary schools to kindergarten to third grades with Nickels serving as a fourth-sixth grade building.

Community members were split on their preferences: 23 percent most liked the new elementary building; 41 percent liked changing Nickels to a fourth elementary school and moving sixth grade West Middle School; and 30 percent liked the idea of kindergarten through third-grade elementary schools and fourth through sixth grades at Nickels.

Part of the district’s last bond issue, approved by voters in 2011, moved preschool students to a stand-alone Early Childhood Center, attached to the district’s Administration Building, which helped ease some space issues.

Takens said the urgency of creating more space depends on growth trends. The district is planning to accept minimal non-district students through the Schools of Choice program for next school year because of capacity issues, and the district only grew 20 students, 60 fewer than projected for this school year.

However, two large housing subdivisions planned are expected to create another enrollment spike.

Takens said bringing facility construction from design to fruition takes four to five years, so planning now is critical. The community may be asked to consider a bond issue in May 2016 or May 2017 depending on the pace of growth.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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