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Student body growth puts pressure on CBCS facility

District anticipates need for space in one to three years 

By Aimee Eaton

The Crested Butte Community School student body will grow beyond the school’s capacity within the next two years, according to findings presented at Monday’s Gunnison Watershed School District school board meeting.

The findings were part of a term-long study undertaken by the school’s statistics class at the request of the school district and school administration.

“The driving question was how will enrollment impact our facility needs in Crested Butte,” said statistics teacher Kriste Lyon. The answer? Drastically.

“The kids were unanimous in wanting to take on the project; they saw it as a service to their community and they were very invested,” said Lyon of the work. “They came up with some very creative big picture projects designed to answer our question. The result was a lot of very rich conversation and thought.”

The students, who worked in seven distinct groups, found that nearly regardless of the statistical model used, all projections showed student enrollment topping 750 within the next one to three years. The results, said Lyon, are reliable to about five years in the future; beyond that the students advised caution in extending the forecast.

“This is absolutely a big deal because when the school opened in 1997, 302 students were enrolled,” said CBCS secondary principal Stephanie Niemi. “We later added on to the school and doubled capacity to 750, which the students have shown we are going to meet in the next two years.”

While growth is normally a positive thing, Niemi said the increase in enrollment is forcing school and district administration to face some tough questions like: where will all the students go; how many additional teachers are needed; how will those teachers be paid; are there enough classrooms; and what is the cost to the quality of education if the school’s capacity is not increased.

“We’re working hard not to impact education quality,” said Niemi. “But there is a limit to how much we can be stretched before we need more resources.”

Currently there are 704 students enrolled at the school, which serves grades kindergarten through 12. According to research conducted by students Mason Bailey and Matthew Harper-Johnston, each year since 2011 (with the exception of 2015) has seen an increase in class size from its first year in school to its graduation.

“This supports the expectation that the school should continue to grow in size,” said Harper-Johnston in his presentation to the school board.

Harper-Johnston and Bailey also found that there was clear growth from the school’s opening to present day. However, the elementary school grew at a faster rate than the secondary school. They attributed this difference to the presence of the Crested Butte Ski Academy and the increased options for secondary education. After the Academy closed, CBCS saw an uptick in enrollment.

“This is not the first time we’ve looked at enrollment growth and student numbers,” said Niemi. “Before the school even opened we hired a firm to project student numbers, then we hired another firm after the bond was passed. Both times we have exceeded capacity far faster than the firms predicted. The last two firms didn’t nail it, but I think these students are dead on with their findings.”

Some of the largest challenges of increases in student growth are related to maintaining class sizes and making sure classes have homes. As of next school year, the secondary school is already out of available classrooms and some teachers will have to act as “floaters,” while others will have to give up their classrooms during their planning periods so that classes may be held in the space.

“Having floating teachers in open classrooms can be an efficient use of the space, but it’s not ideal,” said Niemi. “Some classes like science can never move, but others will have to.”

Niemi added that after converting a custodian closet located off the cafeteria into a classroom a few years ago, the only room available that could possibly be used for a classroom is the teacher’s room.

“Finding every open space and using open classrooms is the first phase of dealing with this growth,” she said. “The second phase is putting in modules and the third is adding on to the building.”

Along with finding classroom space, CBCS will be hiring a part-time Spanish teacher and two additional kindergarten teachers to meet growth needs. Niemi also has requests in to the district for a part-time art teacher and guidance counselor.

“The reason for those requests is we have more students,” Niemi said. “Spanish has really exploded, with students wanting to take classes beginning in middle school and going all the way through high school.”

According to the district administration, it is not uncommon for schools to exceed capacity, and this is not the first time it has happened in Crested Butte.

“The school was originally built for 350 students,” said district superintendent Doug Tredway. “They outgrew that over time and exceeded capacity for a few years while we figured out a solution. In that time classes met on the stage, and art class was a cart that got rolled around.”

Using the statistics class’ growth projections and the projections made by the district, the administration and school board will begin to make a long-term plan for meeting school and student needs.

“Ultimately if we continue to grow we will have to expand facilities,” said Tredway. “Now what that looks like exactly, I don’t know. There are a variety of possibilities that we will be exploring for the school, and a lot of different solutions for the school and for the community. Part of our major initiative is looking at facilities expansion.”

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