By Neale Gulley
The Tonawanda News
North Tonawanda’s new School Superintendent Greg Woytila officially took the helm at Tuesday’s regular board meeting, hearing from architects presiding over the district’s ongoing $48 million capital improvement plan.
Representatives from Kideney Architects presented their analysis of a recent space utilization study, concluding there is no need to consider closing any more schools in the near future.
A forthcoming study is still due to the board regarding whether Grant Elementary or Gilmore Elementary school will be chosen to close for good, but in the meantime, it appears existing space is being used well enough to preclude further, similar discussions.
Analyzing enrollment projections culled a few years ago, Kideney’s Ray Bednarski and David Varecka factored in recent interviews with principals at each building and concluded district facilities are actually close to ideal regarding enrollment when secondary educational services are taken into consideration.
But enrollment is also decreasing faster than originally anticipated.
“We’re already beyond 2016,” Varecka said of original long-term projections on the district’s declining enrollment . “We’re about 250 students less than what was anticipated.”
The greatest changes happened at Spruce, now housing 353 students, down from some 500 three years ago.
Class sizes are between 18 and 24 students at the elementary level. That, plus the myriad secondary functions each building hosts, Varecka said, make each building necessary.
“In general your elementary schools appear to be in pretty optimal condition (from an enrollment standpoint).”
Board President Christine Porto asked whether that meant everything is fine regarding the use of district space.
“I initially would have said no,” Varecka said, referring to the raw numbers of students versus square footage, “But in talking with principals ... when you look at the other educational programs that are mandated, that is what makes the use of rooms more necessary.”
Though he stopped well short of saying all facilities usage was perfectly efficient, he said changes to scheduling or academic services at each building appears to be more of an administrative issues and less of a “brick and mortar” one.
A similar conclusion was reached regarding the middle school and the high school, where enrollment for the latter is down 345 pupils in the last three years to an enrollment of 1,295, but where things like academic intervention and other programs mean vacant rooms are being used.
“On what’s happened the last couple of years, it’s kind of like when the kids move out of the house and it becomes a sewing room or a workout room,” Woytila offered. “When you look at the numbers it looks like we have too much space, but we’re using it.”
With an ongoing building condition survey still underway and due to the state education department in January, Bednarski said no update is yet available regarding analysis of Grant and Gilmore schools to determine whether either will be selected to close for good.
“We’re exploring both buildings and we’ll give you a full report,” he said.