WJCC schools projected to keep growing

If enrollment in the Williamsburg-James City County schools keeps growing as projected, the division will need more space at every level — elementary, middle and high.

New 10-year enrollment projections generated by FutureThink, presented to the WJCC School Board Tuesday, expects the division to increase by 1,022 students by 2027, which could spur the need to add expansions and additions into future capital improvement plans.

FutureThink, a consulting firm the division has hired since 2010, provides a recommended enrollment projection as well as low, moderate and high projections that fluctuate based on economic and housing expectations. The low projections are more conservative and predict fewer students will be enrolled in the division by 2027 — 11,797 compared to the high projection of 13,055. Current enrollment is 11,597.

"Historically, we have used the most likely (numbers) for planning and used low (numbers) for budgeting because we want to be conservative," WJCC Chief Financial Officer Christina Berta said at the Tuesday meeting. "(Enrollment is) still continuing to trend the same way we anticipated."

Overall, the middle schools are projected to grow by 347 students, or 13.2 percent by 2027 — without taking into account the new middle school opening in 2018. A 512-student increase, or 11.9 percent, is expected for the high schools and the elementary schools will see 5.6 percent growth.

Middle Schools

The most pressing capacity issues are with the middle schools.

In the 2017-18 school year, all three will be over-capacity. Berkeley will be over the most, by 114 percent, followed by Toano at 108 percent and Hornsby at 102 percent.

James Blair's opening in fall 2018 is expected to relieve some of that pressure, depending how new attendance lines are drawn. Based on the 2015 enrollment projections, if all three other middle schools are reduced to 90-percent capacity each, then James Blair will have 548 students and also be at 90-percent capacity.

"The data shows that we continue to grow," said board member Lisa Ownby (Powhatan). "It clearly supports that we needed a fourth middle school."

Ownby is the newest board member, elected earlier this year. During her campaign, she advocated for building a fourth high school, rather than expand existing buildings as is written into the interim Superintendent Olwen Herron's current capital improvement plan.

High Schools

Jamestown High School has been over-capacity since 2007-08 school year, and was at 109-percent capacity this year.

The CIP includes division-wide high school expansion in fiscal year 2022 to address capacity issues. Because of Jamestown's need, Herron recommended moving its expansion sooner, to fiscal year 2019.

The plan calls for expanding the cafeteria — by enclosing the courtyard adjacent to the cafeteria — and the core space of the building — which could include additional classrooms, labs or commons space.

"Currently the cafeteria is crowded given current enrollment, it's an enclosed space and there's not much room to move," spokeswoman Betsy Overkamp-Smith. "Expansions to the core space would depend on funding and scope."

More room in the cafeteria would not translate to a higher capacity limit for the high school, only increasing core space would, according to Overkamp-Smith. The increase would depend on how much funding the project receives and the design approved by the board.

Warhill isn't projected to reach its limits until 2023-24, at which time it will be one student over. Lafayette won't near its upper limits until 2026-27, when it will be 99.5 percent full.

Ownby said the board is still "in the throes of conversation" over expansions, but she is fine with the CIP as is.

"(The data) certainly show that we're going to continue to grow as a school division and community," Board Chairman Jim Kelly said. "We have to start looking at when in the out years we're going to need additional facilities."

But Kelly doesn't think building a new high school is the answer. A new one would cost upwards of $75 million, he said, and "expansions are much less than that."

Elementary Schools

As for elementary schools, a new one is on the horizon — the 2027-28 horizon.

Six of WJCC's nine elementary schools are more than 95 percent full this school year — Matthew Whaley is at 100-percent capacity — and all are expected to grow.

The CIP has a design for a new elementary school slated for fiscal year 2027, priced at $1.5 million. Overkamp-Smith said the design generally precedes construction by one year, so the division could break ground on that new building in 2028.

Kelly said conversations on the board have been focused on the high school expansion — particularly Jamestown — because of the immediate need. But it's important to keep big projects like a new school on the city's and county's radar, because they fund each year's CIP.

"It's hard to talk about what we're going to need in the out years," Kelly said. "It's something that we've got to make sure that if the county and the city get hold of land going forward, that they consider it for a new elementary school."

The CIP

Berta said Tuesday the decision to put the high school and elementary school expansion in the years they are in the CIP was based on the schools being at 90-percent capacity.

Vice Chairwoman Kyra Cook agreed that using 90 percent as the capacity trigger for expansions was a good idea.

"I think that gives our funding partners time to plan accordingly," Cook said Tuesday. "I think that it is valid for us and is part of our mandate to ask for what we need."

She said she's comfortable with how the CIP looks.

The board members are expected to vote on the plan at their Dec. 13 work session, after which it will be sent to the city and county planning commissions for discussion and finally to the City Council and County Board of Supervisors. Final approval isn't expected until May 2017, according to Berta.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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