The first new school construction in the West Lafayette School Corporation in more than 50 years began in earnest Monday—an intermediate school at the site of the Burtsfield Gym that will house students from the current Happy Hollow Elementary School.
Enrollment in west side schools has been increasing, officials say, with 400 new students enrolling in the past six years. The corporation’s facilities plan includes a new childhood center and improvements to Cumberland Elementary and the Junior-Senior high school in the coming years. WLCSC leaders say those improvements will house allow for current and future student body increases.
Happy Hollow Principal Margaret Psarros says space is a huge issue for the school. For example, the Happy Hollow band, lacking a designated music room, has to be bussed to the high school for 7 a.m. practice and then bussed back.
Psarros says the current school has become so cramped that storage closets double as teacher work areas.
“Every inch of the building right now is being used for something,” she says. “All the classes are being consumed at this point, we don’t have room to grow, that’s our biggest issue.”
Additionally, she says, the school is just outdated.
“In our current building, one of the challenges is technology keeps growing,” explains Psarros. “We’re doing more with technology and we don’t have the electrical ability to keep that much in our community, so we blow fuses.”
West Lafayette Superintendent Rocky Killion says more space not only means more room for students, but also for new teachers, programs and extracurricular programming.
“More teachers, more classrooms,” he says. “We also have some spaces we currently don’t have. For instance, our elementary schools don’t have kitchens.”
Killion says even though the school system gets hundreds of transfer requests every year that it can’t accommodate thanks to lack of space, the new improvements are being built with only West Lafayette residents in mind.
“People are moving into our school districts because we’re maintaining our arts, our music, our extracurricular and co-curricular programs. So this is more people living in the district and taking care of the students who live here.”
The corporation is at the beginning of its bond cycle, Killion says, and the $50 million in facilities improvements won’t mean an increase in taxes.
Killion says the new facilities are unrelated to the city’s upcoming property tax referendum.
The new school is scheduled to open in late 2018. After students move to the new Burtsfield site, Happy Hollow will be demolished to make room for a new early childhood center, which would house Kindergarten classes.