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OVERCROWDED – Madison schools looking to rezone elementary school to make room for more students

James Clemens was built to help solve the issue of Madison’s growing population, especially on the west side of the city, but now school officials are indicating that won’t be enough.

Madison Superintendent of Education Dr. Dee Fowler and school board members discussed the need to rezone the city schools and focus on another building program. There was even some talk of having to build a third high school sometime in the next 10 years.

Dr. Fowler said Mill Creek and Columbia elementary schools are facing overcrowding next year.

Mill Creek will be at 111.4% capacity. It just opened in 2009 to answer the problem of growth in west Madison.

Columbia, also located on the west side of the city, will be at 102.7% capacity.

The news was presented during a work-session Tuesday night to look at a study by Dennis James, director student services and safety, focusing on the 10-year growth expected district-wide.

“If you’re in K through 4, you may not be going to James Clemens or Bob Jones, especially if you live on the west side,” said Madison School Board president Ray White.

James said in the report that there is room at other elementary schools to help alleviate the over-population at Mill Creek and Columbia, but the district would have to be rezoned. He also said that the other option of building portable classrooms at Mill Creek would not be wise because they would present safety issues during weather emergencies.

The last elementary rezoning occured four years ago when Mill Creek was built.

James said the school district overall has added 350 students each of the previous two years.

The study examined recent growth trends within the district, census data, new housing starts and proposed developments.

Projections show the Mill Creek having 1,003 students next year in a building was designed to handle 900. It also shows Columbia Elementary over capacity by 23 students next year.

Madison’s other five elementary schools has space to handle 368 more students next year. Heritage Elementary would have most room to share being 170 students under capacity, followed by Rainbow Elementary with 164 students and then West Madison Elementary with 149 students under capacity.

Even after rezoning, James said the district’s elementary schools will be over capacity starting in 2016.

One option discussed was enlarging Horizon to the size of Heritage Elementary School. They both share a similar layout. Board members said Horizon possibily could handle an 250 students if that happened.

Fowler said such an expansion could possibly buy the district five more years before it would exceed capacity.

Board members also discussed the inevitable need to build a new elementary school, but agreed that looking at other options, such as rezoning and school expansion, seemed the best route for the immediate future.

Fowler also said growth consultants advised him to start planning on a third high school even before James Clemens was built.

Projections show James Clemens and Bob Jones reaching capacity at 2,000 students each in seven years. James Clemens would exceed capacity in 2020 and 2021, while Bob Jones would remain slightly under capacity.

For middle schools, Discovery, built for 1,200 students, will remain around 800 students through 2021-22, according to projections. Liberty, however, built for 1,000 students, would increase from slightly fewer than 800 students this year to more than 1,000 in 2018 and continue slight growth through 2022.

Before any boundary lines are adjusted, a committee of parents, school leaders and other stakeholders will be formed to study extensive demographic studies and seek outside input. Dennis James, director of student services for Madison City Schools (dennis.james@madisoncity.k12.al.us), is the school district’s lead contact for the enrollment projection studies.