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Consultant predicts rapid growth in county schools

March 04, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A consultant hired by the Washington County Board of Education told an audience of about 20 people Thursday night that the school system faces huge growth in the next few years rather than the flat rates forecast by the state.

According to Deanna Newman, president of Public Pathways Inc., of Minnesota, new housing starts in the county indicate a trend toward growing enrollments and crowded schools.

Newman told members of the board's Facility Advisory Committee and county residents that she and other officials have discussed the numbers with the state, which projects stagnant growth. The board has approved a capital improvement program calling for the construction of four new schools, including Westfields Elementary School, which is already being designed.

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According to Rodney Turnbough, director of facilities management, the schools' building and renovations plan "is substantially larger than anything that has happened in a number of years, perhaps ever in Washington County, in terms of rapid growth." The state would have to approve the county's enrollment numbers within a margin of 5 percent for it to qualify for project funding.

Newman explained while the state uses historical data to make its enrollment projections, she studied current trends, such as housing starts and the impact of program changes.

Newman's forecast shows an increase of about 500 to 600 students a year between now and 2010. She said permits for new housing developments show 1,200 units being built a year - about double what the county has traditionally experienced, she said. Those units typically attract families with children, she said.

Turnbough, who tracks potential housing development in his office, said before the meeting that Newman's numbers might not even account for the school-age residents of all the subdivisions that could be built in the coming years.

The board's most current capital improvement program calls for construction or renovation of 10 schools, including Salem Avenue Elementary School, where work is currently under way. Renovations to Pangborn Elementary School and the construction of Westfields Elementary School are projected to be completed by 2008. In total, the projects would add room for more than 3,800 students.

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