The results of an enrollment projection study conducted in May indicate that after the 2012-13 school year, Lower Merion School District could have a “very significant facilities issue,” according to Pat Guinnane, director of operations for the district.
The study was conducted by DeJong Healy, an educational planning firm, to affirm the increased enrollment seen at all grade levels in the past few years, superintendent Christopher McGinley explained at the June 11 meeting of the board of school directors.
District-wide, there has been about an 8 percent enrollment increase in the last three years. The study predicts a 12 percent increase from this year’s enrollment figures within five years, and an 18 percent increase after 10 years.
The growth is not predicted to be equal across the district, however. Gladwyne Elementary School and Penn Valley Elementary School are predicted to see the biggest increases, with a smaller, but still significant increase at Welsh Valley Middle School.
Gladwyne, which currently has 633 students enrolled, is expected to reach a high point of 743 by the 2016-17 school year. Penn Valley, now at 584 students, is projected to reach a high of 653 by 2015-16. By 2017-18, Welsh Valley’s enrollment is predicted to go from 863 to 1148.
A big reason for the sharp increases, Guinnane says, is likely housing turnover: while Gladwyne and Penn Valley are some of the least populated areas of the district, older families without children are selling to families with children. In other areas of the district, like Ardmore and Bala Cynwyd, generally the housing turnover is family-to-family—and in these areas, the elementary school enrollment has more stable numbers.
“Naturally this has a lot of implications for facilities,” Guinnane said. “[But,] we’re confident that for next school year, 2012-13, we have the facilities we need to accommodate the students we anticipate arriving in September.”
After 2012-13, however, “there’s a very significant facilities issue we’re going to be encountering if we find these numbers to be accurate,” Guinnane said. “… We’re just out of space at Gladwyne after next year.”
The next steps include having a consultant look at the capacity of the district’s elementary and middle schools and comparing those to the enrollment projections, Guinnane said. The district will be “looking at what we can do to accommodate growth, particularly at Penn Valley, Gladwyne, Welsh Valley and Bala Cynwyd.”
According to Guinnane, growth at the high school level is less of a concern, because when the high schools were built, it was with a lot of extra capacity built in. “The buildings wouldn’t be able to be used in exactly the way they are today, but they would be adequate,” he said.
The projections for the next five years are likely accurate within 5 percent, though the consultant claims accuracy within 2 percent, Guinnane said. Predictions more than five years out are less accurate, since the kids who will be entering kindergarten in six years haven’t been born yet.
In any case, Guinnane told the school board, “We will in the next several months be asking you to make some decisions in light of these numbers, … what are our best alternatives … for the 2013-14 school year in the case of Gladwyne and Penn Valley.”
See the attached PDF for the full enrollment study presentation.