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Parents seek solutions to pupil facilities overcrowding

Division saw influx of about 130 unexpected children

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Parents and faculty had lots of questions for city school officials Thursday night about overcrowding issues, but they didn't get many definite answers.

Roughly 20 parents of elementary-aged children joined faculty and city School Board members at Frederick Douglass Elementary School on Thursday evening for the second community meeting regarding the schools' feasibility study.

They wanted to know how long it was going to take before their children experienced any relief from the overcrowding, which have significantly worsened after the school system saw an influx of about 130 unexpected pupils this year.

Annette San Pietro, who has twins in second grade at Frederick Douglass, asked why this situation has sneaked up on officials.

"Is this going to be an age of children who are going to spend their lives in modular classrooms with the community behind the eight ball their entire education in Winchester city schools?" she asked, wondering whether the same influx of students would create overcrowding at the middle and high schools.

"I understand that you have to have the children before you can build for them, but they're here," San Pietro said.

Leslie Lill, who has two children currently at Frederick Douglass and two more on their way to the school, asked why officials are saying that Daniel Morgan Middle School might become overcrowded in 2016 when it was just renovated a few years ago.

"They obviously didn't plan as well as they thought," she said.

But Superintendent Rick Leonard said the turnover in the city schools averages about 30 percent, a trend that is increasing along with the student population.

"It's very difficult to factor that in as well," he said.

Executive Director Kevin McKew said the immediate overcapacity issues may be addressed with modular classrooms in the summer, because construction likely won't begin until the spring of 2013 -- and that's without any complications.

In that scenario, the chosen solution -- whether it be a new school altogether or simply expansion -- would be complete for the 2014-2015 school year.

However, he won't know what the solution will be until sometime between March and May, including whether it will directly affect both of the schools targeted during this study, Frederick Douglass and John Kerr elementary schools, or only one.

Last spring, the estimated amount unofficially allowed for this project was $20 million, but that was before both schools were considered to need some renovation, he said.

Melanie Hennigan, principal architect with Grimm and Parker Architects, the firm working on a feasibility study since late August, addressed the group Thursday with possible solutions for the schools. The solutions for John Kerr include renovating the existing building, building another school on the same property or building a new school on a separate property, but Hennigan said she doesn't have such a spot in mind yet.

John Kerr, a 39-year-old building that has never been renovated, is 14 percent overcapacity and only in fair condition.

"The mechanical systems are at the end of their usable life," Hennigan said about the school.

Frederick Douglass is only 21 years old and in good to excellent condition, but is 8 percent overcapacity, has lost its science and computer labs and has hallways that are neither heated nor cooled. Also, one third grade teacher there has no classroom.

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