Maryville City Schools leaders are preparing to gather input from staff and families on its long-term planning for expected enrollment growth.
Seven of eight options presented during a Board of Education meeting Monday, Dec. 9, would rely on building a new school. That’s unlikely to happen for perhaps seven years, but the district is planning now so it is ready for related decisions, such as land acquisition.
Director Mike Winstead told the board he plans to take the options to each school staring in January to gain feedback from staff members and focus groups of senior students and parents.
“There are some fairly immediate needs coming up, both in the intermediate (schools) and in the junior high school, in the next couple of years,” noted Jim Hinton, principal for Cope Architecture, which conducted the planning study and developed the options. Most of the options would take a grade out of Coulter Grove and Montgomery Ridge, the intermediate schools now serving grades four through seven.
With an average class size of 25 students, those three schools would exceed capacity in the 2021-22 school year. Raising the average class size to 28 would push that to 2029-30, although the junior high would be over by an estimated 14 student for one year in the interim period.
Estimated construction costs range from a low of $14 million to build additions on four of Maryville’s seven schools to a high of $39 million, for a new school plus one addition. That’s based on 2019 costs, and Hinton reminded the board to assume costs will rise about 5% a year.
Cope’s study is based only on building capacity, and gathering input from educators and families is aimed at identifying other issues, such as how the configurations may affect academics, athletics and the fine arts, Winstead said.
Some board members and administrators noted concerns Monday with plans that would delay uniting students at one school. For example, one option would have two schools serving grades seven through nine, so students from the city wouldn’t come together until their sophomore year, at the high school.
Currently the students come together for grades eight and nine at the junior high. Another option would have two schools serving grades four through eighth, and then combine the junior and high schools.
“Eighth grade’s hard enough,” board member Bethany Pope said. “I can’t imagine pushing that out another year.”
The principal of Maryville Junior High agreed. “I think that is way too late for sophomores to come together and be a cohesive group at Maryville High School,” Lisa McGinley said.
MHS Principal Greg Roach shared his perspective from serving at another high school fed by four middle schools. “You spent the whole ninth grade trying to build community,” from schools that competed against each other for three years.
“It would probably be easier if community wasn’t so important in what we are trying to do here,” said Nick Black, who was elected Monday as board chair.
Two options would have four elementary schools serving kindergarten through grade four. “I like having fourth grade in the elementary schools,” board member Chad Hampton said.
While Cope laid out eight scenarios, elements of each could be combined with others. “We can pick and choose what makes the most sense,” Hinton said.
Options Hinton presented in late August didn’t include Maryville High School, which based on current growth is expected to have enough capacity for grades 10-12 through at least the 2027-28 school year. It could handle expected growth for eight more years if the district raises the average class size from 25 to 28 students.
Half of the options presented this week rely on moving the high school to a “college model,” with teachers having a common planning area rather than each teacher having an assigned classroom.
“The teachers have their home base inside that planning area,” Hinton explained, and that would free 10 classrooms at MHS, according to Cope’s analysis.
Two of the models would implement the college model at the junior high, too, freeing three classrooms.
“It’s not all or nothing,” Winstead explained, noting that some departments could go to that model, rather than the entire school.
Three other options would consider the high school and junior high as one campus serving grades nine through 12. Black said he likes that idea, but it may be cost prohibitive.
The least expensive option presented would rely on additions at Sam Houston Elementary, Montgomery Ridge Intermediate, Maryville Junior High and Maryville High.
Hinton explained that the proposed two-story, eight-classroom MHS addition would take up part of the current parking lot. Cope proposes Maryville use land it already owns across the street to make up for the lost parking spots.
For $18.5 million the district could build a fourth elementary school, pull fourth grade back to that level and have the intermediate schools serve grades five through seven. An addition at the junior high and college model at the high school complete that plan.
The most expensive, at $39 million, involves an addition to SHE, housing only grades four through six at the intermediate schools, constructing a new building for grades seven and eight, and then creating a combined campus with the junior and high school for grades nine through 12.
“This is a substantial difference and a substantial change in the way the school system is organized,” Hinton noted.
Another factor in the planning will be operating costs. Winstead noted that a new school costs at least a million dollars a year to operate, and some of the plans may affect how the district organizes bus service.