MERIDIAN, Idaho —
This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
The West Ada School District is projecting it will see 11,000 new students over the next decade, with the biggest anticipated need for elementary schools, according to a presentation given to the Meridian City Council on Wednesday.
Meridian has experienced tremendous growth in the last 20 years, but one council member also questioned how schools are built. High schools in West Ada, for example, are built on 50-60 acres of land. Middle schools are built on about 30 acres, West Ada School District Chief Operations Officer Jonathan Gillen said, and elementary schools on 10.
“There’s many, especially metro areas in our country, where you have a high school on 10 acres or 15 acres,” councilmember Jessica Perreault said. “What am I missing?”
Gillen said he thought the district would continue to look at questions of building differently.
“As far as whether we would change the design and the look of our schools and change the amount of acreage, I think there’s a lot of folks that would go into that conversation,” Gillen said. “We’ll also be able to look at our peers and see what they have done across the state to build schools.”
In the region, Meridian High School is on about 34 acres, according to Ada County property records.
Perreault also mentioned the “sticker shock” on the price tag of the newly opened Owyhee High School, which sits on about 60 acres of land.
“I asked about ‘Why are we not building this to 2,500 students?’” Perreault said. “I was told that 1,800 students would get us five years and it’s gotten us way less than that.”
The school, which cost about $70 million, is expected to start the school year at capacity.
However, “at capacity,” is considered to be functioning at 75% utilization so there is still the 25% not being used, said West Ada Planning and Development Coordinator Marci Horner.
Horner explained to the council where the need for new schools is greatest in the district.
In the north region of the district, an area encompassing Star, Eagle, Eagle Hills, and Seven Oaks elementary schools, the district is anticipating a need for two new elementary schools.
In the west, which represents Pleasant View, Ponderosa, and Chaparral elementary schools, West Ada projected a need for one new elementary school.
In the south, which includes schools such as Mary McPherson and Pepper Ridge, West Ada said one new elementary school would be needed.
There’s also a need for two middle schools and two high schools, one each in the north and south, Horner said.
A tentative timeline stretches from 2024 for the first elementary school in Star, to 2034 with a high school in South Meridian or Boise. West Ada is also considering building a Career and Technical Education Center.
Those nine buildings are projected to cost over $334 million from 2024 to 2034. Gillen said he was trying to take into consideration what construction would cost 10 years into the future.
Perreault also raised concerns about the community’s support for bonds.
“We are obviously having a lot of conversations about property taxes … and if bonds are added, there’s that additional element of cost,” Perreault said. “Do you anticipate you’re going to run into challenges getting bonds passed because there’s already such a focus on reducing property taxes … it is paid in addition to those taxes.”
Gillen said the district can help provide information on the impact of bonds.
“Part of the planning that we do … is trying to do our best to share what the impact would be of additional debt,” Gillen said.
A previous meeting between the city and school district, in February, looked at the methods the school district used to project the number of students from new development.
Concerns about overcrowding in the district’s schools have been top of mind for some time, the Idaho Press previously reported. In November, then-West Ada Board Chair Amy Johnson warned the council that the district will experience a “significant amount of pain” if city leadership and the district don’t reconcile the pace of the development with the funding of schools.
Though the city, like the rest of the Treasure Valley, faces a deep and unrelenting housing crisis, the council has continued some annexations while the two groups discuss plans to deal with growth.
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