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Overcrowded schools have Webster Groves looking for a way to make room

Avery Elementary School in Webster Groves is at 102 percent capacity, even with a modular classroom. The district is looking for ways to increase space, as four of five elementary schools are at or over capacity.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Avery Elementary School in Webster Groves is at 102 percent capacity, even with a modular classroom. The district is looking for ways to increase space, as four of five elementary schools are at or over capacity.

Enrollment increased so much this summer at Edgar Road Elementary in Webster Groves, the school had to add a second temporary classroom behind the school to accommodate all the new students. A third will probably have to be added next summer.

Because of a growing student population, portable temporary classrooms have been added to two other Webster Groves elementary schools as well. Webster Groves has 4,435 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, about 200 more than in 2010. The district expects to enroll another 226 elementary students by 2022.

Superintendent John Simpson said the temporary classrooms are an imperfect solution to the surging enrollment. Students in those classrooms, he said, "are disconnected from the greater school community."

With four out of five elementary schools above or nearing maximum capacity, even with those temporary additions, the St. Louis County district is looking for long-term solutions to finding more room.

The district has presented six plans to the public and is collecting input through an online survey until Oct. 31.

The plans include:

  • Option 1: Allow class sizes to increase by three students and shift enrollment boundaries. This option would not require any spending but schools would reach full capacity again by 2022.
  • Option 2: Add eight classrooms to Edgar Road school and six classrooms to Clark Elementary School. This option would cost $7 million.
  • Option 3: Add 15 classrooms to Hudson Elementary School and create a magnet program there, reducing populations at other schools. The estimated cost is $9 million.
  • Option 4: This plan includes several sub-options but all include converting the sixth-grade school at Steger into an elementary school. Givens, a computer school, could also be used as a combined elementary school with Steger. Or, Steger could become a fifth-grade-only center, making the existing elementary schools kindergarten through fourth-grade. School boundaries would be redrawn. It would cost up to $1 million.
  • Option 5: Build an addition onto Hixson Middle School to accommodate sixth-graders, allowing Steger to become an kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary school. It would cost $15 million.
  • Option 6: Send sixth-graders to Hixson and eighth-graders to the high school. Steger would then serve as a K-5 elementary school. It’s estimated to cost between $1 million - $10 million.

Several options would require voters to approve the sale of bonds to fund the expansions, Simpson said. More expensive ones may also require a tax increase.

Voters in Webster Groves defeated a bond and tax increase measure in 2015.

Leah Rush has a first-grader in Hudson. She and her husband moved their family to Webster Groves a year ago from St. Louis because of the quality of schools. They did not expect to be facing a reconfiguring of schools and possible tax increase so quickly.

After attending an open house at the administrative center Thursday, she said she likes the idea of moving sixth graders to the same site as seventh and eighth graders to make room for another elementary school. Rush said that would allow students to “have a more robust middle school experience. And it would decrease the number of transitions kids have to make from school to school.”

The school board is expected to choose a facilities plan early next year.

Parkway School District is experiencing a similar space crunch. It’s asking voters on Nov. 6 to approve a no-tax increase $110 million bond. The money will be used for repairs and renovations as well as constructing more classrooms in the district, according to the administration. It needs 57 percent approval from voters.

The school board for the Ferguson-Florissant School District voted earlier this month to shutter three schools because of falling enrollment.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Ryan Delaney works on the Innovation Trail project - covering technology, economic development, startups and other issues relating to New York's innovation economy.
Ryan Delaney
Ryan is a reporter on the education desk at St. Louis Public Radio, covering both higher education and the many school districts in the St. Louis region. He has previously reported for public radio stations WFYI in Indianapolis and WRVO in upstate New York. He began his journalism career working part time for WAER while attending Syracuse University. He's won multiple reporting awards and his work, which has aired on NPR, The Takeaway and WGBH's Innovation Hub. Having grown up in Burlington, Vt., he often spends time being in the woods hiking, camping, and skiing.