Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Growing enrollment is a key factor in the call for support of a $22,785,000 bond election on Nov. 5, as JISD officials hope to fund a new campus for the West Side Elementary program while adding more classrooms and a band hall at the Nichols Intermediate campus, Superintendent Joe Wardell said Wednesday.
The local superintendent gave a presentation on the bond election at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, with a handful of people in attendance.
This year, he said, the West Side program exceeded a permanent cap of 399 students by 118.5 percent, posting an enrollment of 473, while Nichols – with a permanent cap of 651 – has an enrollment of 723 students, or 111.1 percent over the cap.
Couple these figures with inadequate classroom space, and the problem leaps from a facility problem to a teaching one, he said, alluding to how a successful 2010 bond election calling for a new cafeteria at Fred Douglass Elementary made a huge, positive difference for educators there.
“The principal (there) told me, 'You realize that we're actually getting 15 more minutes (of class time) with the kids every day because of the way we have been able to handle lunch (logistics),'” he recalled, adding, “I hadn't thought about (how a single building impacted a program) that way.”
Meanwhile, the district is alleviating this bursting-at-the-seams situation by educating students living in the West Side zone at other local campuses.
The West Side program (grades 1-8) began in a two-story brick edifice built in 1922 at Sunset Avenue and Hickory Street; three decades later, in 1951, a new structure was erected on site, and today the program educates children in Pre-K through fourth grade.
Should the November bond election be favorable, a new school – similar in design to Joe Wright and East Side, and featuring upgraded security designs and measures – would be built along College Avenue on a 38-acre tract purchased earlier this year when Lon Morris College auctioned off its property after declaring bankruptcy. The former West Side campus ideally will be repurposed for housing the district's COMPASS Center, Wardell said.
Meanwhile, the Nichols campus would receive eight new classrooms and a new, larger band hall, while the old band hall would be utilized as classroom and storage space.
Both schools would then be able to sell portable buildings presently being utilized as classroom space, Wardell said.
These projects are part of a district master facilities plan, which will address needs in stages.
If successful, Wardell estimated that construction – from the moment ground is broken on the project to the turn-key phase – would take about one year.
Addressing a point raised by an audience member about bond interest rates, Wardell said the district has predicted “all of this on five percent. But they're actually set up for like 4.3, 4.4, 4.5 percent, so we're hoping for that.”
Local property owners will see their taxes increase by just over $5 per month for an increase of $61.96 per year increase of taxes on the average home in Jacksonville.