The Herd

Growing Pains

Brian Foisy, Staff Writer

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“[In] almost every district in the state of Maine, enrollment is dropping. We are the only district in which enrollment is increasing.”  Dr. Hawes

Kennebunk High School is currently undergoing a massive transformation including a 42 million dollar renovation accompanied by a renaissance of all the academic and extracurricular programs that KHS offers. This plan was designed to update the facilities of KHS to the standards of other 21st century schools and to make sure that the school’s size could support the student population. This intent is evident from the spacious hallways to the wide staircases and the 410 seat theater, but not as evident in the newly remodeled cafeteria.

Flash forward (or is it backward?):

It’s the Freshman’s first day of the 2017 school year: the students are brought into the cafeteria for orientation and the traditional first day breakfast. As they enter the cafeteria, it becomes apparent that this class has the room almost entirely filled. How could it be possible that only one of the four classes could entirely fill the new cafeteria? As RSU 21 Superintendent Dr. Katie Hawes puts it, “The cafeteria is interesting.”

While the district’s official Master Facilities Plan states that “we will have space for all students in RSU 21 using existing and renovated facilities well into the future,” the school may still encounter some space problems within the next five years. The new school’s final capacity will range from 700-973 students, with 17-24 per classroom. The district’s plan stated that this year’s enrollment would be about 701, they predict that by the 2019-2020 school year enrollment will be around 708, and in the 2024-2025 school year it will be 654, with a stated margin of error of about plus or minus 10%. But current enrollment is already sitting at 712 students.

The company responsible for coming up with these diminished figures is Planning Decisions Inc., based in South Portland. Their forecasting model takes into account numbers of live births in the town, as well as pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade enrollment. It is with this data that they form projections for school enrollment.  The last time Planning Decisions found projections for RSU 21 enrollment, their numbers came out around 10% under the district’s actual numbers.

The primary issue, with this year’s projections, was a failure to take into account that all Arundel students would be attending Middle School of the Kennebunks for Middle School and that the new high school building would be a major attraction for RSU 21.   If all Arundel students were to attend Kennebunk High School, the 2019-2020 population would be at 857 students, and in 2024-2025 would be 800. In these scenarios, classrooms could once again be overcrowded. While RSU 21 does not expect 100% of these Arundel students to come to KHS, they do expect to pick up more students in Arundel then they had before. RSU 21 also plans to invite students from Dayton to attend high school in Kennebunk, once their district opens up their choices for high school. However, if the enrollment ever did come close to the maximum enrollment of 973, Dayton students would no longer be able to join the district.

There are provisions to add an additional four classrooms to KHS if the student body continues to increase. Dr. Hawes estimates that with about 20 students in a classroom the four classrooms could add space for 80 more students. These potential expansion spaces are spread around the school, with two being planned as add-ons to the English wing, and another two classrooms occupying the space that is currently the auxiliary gym. It is highly likely that the district sees this to be a likely situation as the new part of the building was built with radiant heating strips in the roof for easy expansion along with other provisions for classroom space.

What will happen if the new building does become too small?  The cafeteria will likely be the first place where students are affected. As many teachers in the High School have speculated, and has been confirmed by Dr. Hawes, the obvious move will be to increase the number of lunches from two to three.  While the exact implementation of the schedule has not yet been planned out, some teachers worry that a third lunch would be added, similarly to a former schedule in which the middle lunch interrupted instruction during third block. This would obviously impact the other blocks because the duration of block three would have to be increased. KHS could also get creative and look into alternative spaces for lunch, such as the lobby or outside on picnic tables, weather permitting.

KHS, RSU 21, and PC Construction have obviously taken extensive precautions to prevent an overcrowded school and classrooms. However, if the projections are underestimated by even the slightest margin, it could lead the entire 42 million dollar renovation to be inadequate. It is therefore extremely important that the worst case scenario remains merely hypothetical, or else our 30 year process of campaigning and building would have to be repeated again.

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Kennebunk High School's quarterly magazine
Growing Pains