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Despite fewer students in school district, capital bond plans for anticipated growth

The numbers continue to show that it's mainly West Linn Schools that are over capacity right now, with some Wilsonville facilities close behindA couple weeks ago, the West-Linn Wilsonville School District released its annual enrollment numbers. Overall, enrollment is down across the board, with small pockets of growth.

The diminishing figures have left some scratching their heads while looking at the new $206.8 million capital bond measure that was passed to build new schools and upgrade others in the district.

Using the district-measured WL-WV Superintendent's High School Study conducted during the 2017-18 school year, along with a 10-year enrollment forecast conducted by FLO Analytics in 2018, the school board approved a list of capital projects to be covered by the $206.8 million bond.

Following the recommendation of the district's Long-Range Planning Committee, the bond aimes to fund several major construction projects across the district, including: safety and security updates; technology upgrades; capital improvements and facility upgrades; and building a Performing Arts Center at Wilsonville High School.

But the big-ticket items address expansion: building a new primary school in the Frog Pond neighborhood in Wilsonville, building a new Athey Creek Middle School in West Linn, and relocating the Arts and Technology High School to the former Athey building.

Andrew Kilstrom, director of communications of the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, said that the build-out is essential.

Starting at the primary level, Boeckman Creek Primary School in Wilsonville has been at or near capacity since 2017. But Kilstrom said the new primary school within the Frog Pond development will solve Boeckman Creek's crowding issue.

"One area we do predict to see growth in is the Frog Pond area. Building that school right in the heart of that neighborhood, where 600 new homes are coming online, will address families that are moving into that area," Kilstrom said.

"Boeckman Creek is a little over capacity right now — we actually have portable classrooms there right now, and that's where those students are attending right now — but they'll be able to move over to that new school."

Rosemont Ridge Middle School in West Linn is in a similar predicament, having been at or over capacity since 2014. Closing open enrollment to out-of-district transfer students in 2017, along with balancing the student population with Athey Creek Middle School, has significantly shrunk the number, but Kilstrom said West Linn students need more space.

The district's answer is a new Athey Creek Middle School on the district-owned Dollar Street property in West Linn.

"We like that we can move (Athey Creek) into the neighborhood where the students actually live," Kilstrom said, "whereas currently it's sitting on I-205."

The relocation, besides adding space, also is positioned to increase walkability. According to a preliminary traffic study, an estimated 25% of students will live within a one-mile radius of the building.

But the new middle school will solve more than Rosemont's overcrowding, according to the district. By vacating the current Athey Creek campus, the district's alternative high school, Arts and Technology, will be able to move in and expand from its current 80-100 capacity to about 400 students.

As an optional high school, the district wants to keep it smaller, but the school usually has a waitlist to attend, based on need and space available. The district doesn't anticipate to open the expanded Arts and Technology at the 400 student goal-capacity, but somewhere in the 200-300-student range.

"The waitlist varies, and we do try to accommodate, but the number of students grows throughout the year," Kilstrom said. "Right now, it's only a sophomore through senior high school, but there have been some cases where a freshman will transfer in the middle of their freshman year, but all students start at West Linn or Wilsonville High School. This new iteration of Arts and Technology would be a 9-12, comprehensive high school experience. The thought is that we'll be able to add CTE — career and technical education — courses to all three of our high schools."

This switch is designed to offer students more career pathway opportunities while taking pressure off of the overcrowded West Linn High School and near-capacity Wilsonville High School campuses.

"West Linn High School, in particular, is close to 1,900 students, which is well over capacity. We'd like to see that school more around 1,700. And for Wilsonville High School, the FLO Analytics projection shows that they are going to eclipse 1,500 students in the next few years," Kilstrom said. "With this [relocation], depending on what a student is interested in, a student will be able to choose any one of the three high schools to get some real-world experience prior to graduation."

So despite enrollment falling from 9,948 students to 9,816 students from September 2018 to September 2019, Kilstrom is confident in the district's growth potential and said the district wants to be ready ahead of time rather than having to react once schools are beyond their capacities.

"We track enrollment very closely, and year to year we get cohorts and how they change over the course of their K-12 experience, and we work closely with city planners and county planners and know what the growth is going to look like in the area," Kilstrom said.

"Overall enrollment is down at this time from last year, but there are pockets of growth, and those are big areas that the bond aims to address."

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