As the second of two planned construction phases at Elmwood Academy nears completion, Mechanicsburg Area School District Superintendent Mark Leidy asked the school board last week to consider authorizing designs for an unexpected third phase that would add a classroom wing.
The Elmwood building, which serves as the district’s grade 4-5 center, will need more classrooms sooner than later in light of a new enrollment projection report from DecisionInsite, a data evaluation firm contracted to the district.
While Elmwood’s current enrollment totals just under 700 students, DecisionInsite projects student numbers at the school will rise each year until hitting an estimated 831 students for the 2021-22 school year.
“Our high point (at Elmwood) is coming in faster than we originally thought,” Leidy said.
After 2021-22, enrollment in grades 4-5 is expected to decline, but those numbers aren’t expected to fall back to current levels, according to DecisionInsite’s most recent calculations to the district.
This prediction comes on the heels of two recent projects at Elmwood, one of which is in progress. In 2018, interior renovations transformed the building from its previous status as a school for grades 1-5 to its current use as a district center for grades 4-5.
Also last year, exterior site work began at Elmwood to relocate the school’s parent drop-off area to the rear of the building and convert the front area to a drop-off area for buses only. A new drive loop for parents dropping off students runs one-way from a Shepherdstown Road entrance behind the school to a rear building exit. The building’s front entrance area also was cleaned and coated and building letters were installed. Site work remains ongoing.
Contract workers are finishing landscaping and preparing to complete Shepherdstown Road improvements with a final paving course at Elmwood, Leidy said. “Some of the remaining items to be completed will depend on cooperation from the weather,” he said.
The district’s program design project is based on the results of a feasibility study in 2015-16. That study focused mainly on the district’s elementary grades because those buildings were either close to or already exceeding capacity.
The results of that study resulted in a realignment of the district’s elementary grades. When Elmwood Elementary School became Elmwood Academy at the start of the 2018-19 school year, the district’s remaining elementary schools were converted to accommodate grades 1-3.
Last year, work began at the Kindergarten Academy to renovate the building and add a classroom wing by the start of the 2019-20 school year. The addition’s second floor will serve as the district’s administration offices that were transferred from Elmwood’s second floor and are now temporarily relocated in a rented facility.
Leidy said on Tuesday that work continues at the Kindergarten Academy “at a steady pace.” Re-roofing is underway and prime paint is being applied to interior walls. New structural steel defining a new high story with windows known as a clerestory has been installed for the building’s corridor. Work also has begun on the school’s new two-story addition, with completion of its floor slab expected within the next two weeks.
In September 2018, the school board approved contracts totaling $4,511,672 for a Wildcat Activity Center that will be built along side Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School. However weather has slowed construction of the new center “which may ultimately impact the timeline for completion,” Leidy said.
Initially, completion was expected around July for the 15,000-square foot building with a main gymnasium, an auxiliary gym, additional sports locker rooms, equipment storage areas, a concession stand, and a lobby with restrooms for outside events at the school. Structural steel framing outlining the building’s shape has been installed while masonry work continues. Roof deck installation is next.
The activity center project also includes renovating an existing team room area within the high school. The contractor is preparing to paint the finished area and will soon turn it over for use by the district, Leidy reported on Tuesday.
Last month, school board members approved contracts totaling $24,685 million for the upcoming expansion and renovation projects at Shepherdstown Elementary and Upper Allen Elementary schools, scheduled to begin this year and be completed in late 2020. Architects since have issued “Notice of Intent to Award Contracts” to each of the approved contractors. Notices to proceed will be issued once the district receives final building permits.
Also on March 13, the school board approved an update to the district’s 2015-16 feasibility study that would focus on growth in the district’s secondary grades.
In 2016, Mechanicsburg initiated a contract with DecisionInsite to update the district’s enrollment projections annually. According to the latest predictions by DecisionInsite, enrollment at the high school is expected to reach 1,436 by 2024-25 and continue to expand to 1,603 by 2026-27. At the middle school, enrollment is predicted to jump to more than 1,200 by 2024-25 and, like the high school, will continue to grow at least through 2027-28.
In August 2017, the school board authorized architects to design renovations and expansions to Upper Allen, Shepherdstown, Broad Street and Northside Elementary schools, all now serving grades 1, 2 and 3. Although architects are continuing designs for these buildings, Leidy said on Tuesday that he believes the proposed Elmwood addition should take precedence over renovation plans at Broad Street and Northside.
“We’ve got to do these (Broad Street and Northside) on an equity standpoint, but this (Elmwood addition) is essential. Children are coming into our district and we have to find a way to keep up the quality of our programs,” Leidy said.
District officials plan to continue discussions about the Elmwood proposal at future meetings