A group of about 40 people gathered on a windy hilltop Sunday in northwest Omaha to officially break ground for a new jewel in the Elkhorn Public Schools’ crown.
Elkhorn North, when it opens in August 2020 near 180th Street and West Maple Road, will have capacity for 1,200 students with room to add space for 500 more. The district’s third high school is important, said Elkhorn Superintendent Bary Habrock, because the district is nearing 10,000 students and is projected to have 18,000 to 20,000 students in the years to come.
“Statewide or even regionally, it is not often that new high schools are built,” Habrock said. “In Elkhorn, we will have built two in 10 years.”
When Elkhorn North opens, the school district will have three high schools, five middle schools and 12 elementary schools, Habrock said. The school district is purchasing 54 acres near 186th and Ida Streets for about $2.7 million in order to build new middle and elementary schools.
Elkhorn South opened in 2010. Habrock said it probably won’t be long before a fourth high school will be needed.
“The growth of our school district is 600 to 700 new students that arrive each August that were not here the previous May,” Habrock said. “Today, I offer a heartfelt thank-you to our community for their partnership and ongoing support of our schools.”
Construction on Elkhorn North began this summer following the passage of a $149.6 million bond issue that will also cover new elementary and middle schools. The 40-acre high school campus is budgeted to cost $78.5 million.
The school’s amenities will be on par with the district’s two other high schools. Elkhorn North will have three computer labs, but they’ll be used primarily by art, journalism, industrial technology and business classes.
The school will also have two gyms, one for practice and one for competition. Elkhorn North will have its own baseball, softball and soccer fields but will share the district’s stadium at Elkhorn High.
When talking to students and staff, school leaders and architects found a few things that could be tweaked. The school’s three-story classroom wing and science classrooms will be clustered together at one end of the building, and there will be room to add labs if needed.
Nationally, upward of 70 percent of high school students take a science class all four years. In Elkhorn, that percentage is about 95 percent, so the district wanted plenty of lab space.
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Named for the Elkhorn River and positioned a short distance from where that river empties into the Platte River, the town of Elkhorn was born from the rails. The construction of the Union Pacific Railroad west of Omaha prompted the building of Elkhorn Station in 1866, around which the town of Elkhorn began to form. Though it was first incorporated in 1872, Elkhorn gave up its charter after a few years amid economic woes, and would remain an unincorporated village for years. Finally, two decades after the first rails passed through Elkhorn Station, the town of Elkhorn was again incorporated by an act of the legislature on Dec. 30, 1886, this time for good.
In 1895, a fire burned an entire block of Main and south of Center Streets, destroying a hotel and livery, a bakery and several shops. Above, the town's volunteer firefighters in 1891.
A new Town Hall was constructed in 1905 by Alec McKenzie at a cost of $1,055. The building, which was eventually outfitted to serve as its library and jail, still stands today as a historical landmark.
Elkhorn's first school, a one-room schoolhouse made of logs, was built some time in the early 1850s. When a fire destroyed that first building, it was replaced in 1869 by a two-story, four-classroom school. However it wasn't until 1914, when a new wing was added to that building, that Elkhorn was able to expand the school from grade 10 to grade 12, giving the town its first accredited high school. The first high school students posed for a picture in 1914. The new Elkhorn High School graduated its first class, five students in total, in 1916.
The Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental road in the United States, was paved in concrete base and brick through Elkhorn in 1913. The road brought tourists to the town, inspiring one hotel to change its name to "The Lincoln Highway Hotel."
A new schoolhouse for grades 1-12 replaced the town's first multi-room school building in 1930.
The grade school at Elkhorn School was moved to a new, $340000 split-level building in 1961 as enrollment grew and more room was needed. The school was then expanded in 1964 with the addition of four new rooms.
The town of Elkhorn celebrated its centennial anniversary, dating back to the platting of the town in 1867. The town's history was documented in the book, "1867-1967 Elkhorn, Nebraska, The First Century of Progress," by the Elkhorn Women's Club Centennial Book Committee.
Between 1972 and 1975, Elkhorn platted the housing developments of Ramblewood, Fair Meadows and Antler Country; while most of these developments were technically not a part of the city of Elkhorn, they added more than 700 lots to the surrounding area, parts of which would later be joined to the city. Above, the first home in Chapel Hills. According to Patsy Schmidt, the president of the Elkhorn Historical Society, the 1970s marked the beginning of Elkhorn's suburban boom, driven largely by "white flight" from the city of Omaha to Elkhorn and the newly built housing developments around it. In 1970, Elkhorn's population was 1,184, according to the Census Bureau. By the turn of the century, it would be 6,062, thanks to these forces of suburban flight and a flurry of annexations in the 1990s.
Elkhorn's major additions in the 1980s belied its gradual transformation into a suburban refuge for Omahans looking to escape the city. In 1980, Ta-ha-zouka Park was built, named for the Omaha Indian phrase "Elk's Horn," from which the Elkhorn River itself takes its name. That year also saw the opening of Metropolitan Community College, Elkhorn Valley Campus, the first college campus in the town. Educating 1,200 students in its first year, the Elkhorn Valley Campus has grown to 1,558 full-time students as of the 2016-17 school year, making it MCC's third biggest campus. Elkhorn also added two golf courses in the decade, Skyline Golf Course in 1982 and Elkhorn Ridge Golf Course in 1987, and opened its first mall, Hillrise stip mall, in 1983.
The election of Phil Klein as mayor of Elkhorn in 1992 marked the beginning of an era of aggressive expansion, mostly through annexation, in Elkhorn. Above, Klein and the Elkhorn City Council. Klein's annexations of Ramblewood to the northwest; Skyline Ranches and Estates, Chapel Hill and Rogers Ridge to the south; Brittany Estates and Greenbrier to the west; and Winterburn to the east help bring the population of Elkhorn from 1,398 in 1990 to 6,062 in 2000.
The controversial annexations of Skyline Ranches and Chapel Hill by Mayor Phil Klein were just the first of several such moves the city made in the 1990s.
In 1996, Elkhorn annexed eight subdivisions in one year, nearly tripling its population while absorbing the areas of Rogers Ridge, Ramblewood, Quail Ridge I and II, Skyline Oaks I and II, Wadsworth and Wright. Above, an Omaha city employee changes Quail Ridge Drive to Quail Ridge Circle in 2007 as part of the annexation from Elkhorn to Omaha.
In 2005, Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey announced his plans to annex Elkhorn before the smaller city could reach the 10,000 population needed to prevent involuntary annexation by Omaha. The declaration met strong opposition from the majority of Elkhorn's 8,000 residents, and Elkhorn Mayor Phil Klein rushed to annex enough of Elkhorn's neighboring subdivisions to prevent his city's own annexation by Omaha. When those efforts came short, Elkhorn sued the city of Omaha, eventually taking its case all the way to Nebraska's Supreme Court. Above, Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey (left) and Elkhorn Mayor Phil Klein exit Fahey's office following a 10-minute discussion of the dispute on Feb. 24, 2005.
In January 2007, two years after Omaha announced its intention to annex Elkhorn, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that Omaha's annexation of Elkhorn was legal. Elkhorn officially became part of Omaha on March 1. Above, Elkhorn Mayor Phil Klein gets a hug from city resident at the close of Elkhorn's final City Council meeting before its annexation by Omaha.
More than a decade since it was annexed by Omaha, Elkhorn's independence lives on, in spirit if not in law. Many residents still harbor bitter feelings about the forced annexation, with some still asserting that Elkhorn is not truly part of the big city. Every summer the city commemorates its heritage and history with a parade and other festivities during "Elkhorn Days," and in 2017, the parade celebrated Elkhorn's 150th anniversary as an independent municipality.