The need for a second high school in Gretna is approaching rapidly. It’s all in the numbers: the ever-growing enrollment numbers tracked closely by Gretna Public Schools officials.
Those numbers were presented to the community last week, with enrollment and building capacity data as the focus of the first meeting of the Gretna Public Schools Citizens’ Building and Construction Advisory Committee, held Thursday at the GPS administration building.
The committee will meet monthly through April, focusing on a variety of topics designed to help prioritize community needs with the goal to propose a bond referendum on the fall ballot.
Earlier this school year, Gretna High School’s enrollment was about 200 students under capacity, more than 91% full. With enrollment at the high school growing 6% last year and at a five-year average of 11.1%, that number will only grow as the larger elementary classes reach these grade levels in the next three years.
“Those large elementary classes are now hitting the middle school and next is the high school,” said Superintendent Rich Beran.
Following those numbers, GPS anticipates a second high school will be necessary within the next few years.
“The high school is really the first concern,” Beran said. “By 2021, we’re looking at 1,600 students.”
Beran said it takes about three years to build a high school: one year of planning and two years of construction. District officials and the Board of Education are already in talks with DLR Group, the district’s contracted design firm, to create a plan for the second high school.
With the opening of Aspen Creek Middle School in 2017, some relief was provided at the middle level. Still, each middle school is expected to reach 90% capacity in the next two years. This puts a third middle school as a high priority on the list of possible bond projects.
That’s not to say growth won’t continue at the elementary level. The number of children ages 0 to 5 in the Gretna district increased 16.9% from 2018 to 2019. With nearly 3,000 lots still to be built in current developments, and more developments likely to be proposed throughout the year, those numbers aren’t declining any time soon.
“The tsunami is still coming,” said Pat Phelan with DLR Group.
Most elementary school buildings are currently over capacity, though that number does not include the portable classrooms. Through funds from the 2018 bond, the district will open its sixth elementary school this fall and its seventh elementary building in the fall of 2021, which will help balance those numbers.
Still, another two elementary schools will likely be considered for this fall’s bond proposal.
Site acquisition for future schools remains a priority, as do bus barn and maintenance facilities along with ongoing technology improvements.
“It’s been very logical, very methodical and very realistic,” Phelan said of district growth planning. “We hope to continue that.”
The Feb. 27 meeting will focus on facility improvement options and cost. The March 26 meeting will review total project costs and tax levy impact. The April 23 meeting will be dedicated to developing a recommendation for the school board, with the plan set to be presented to the board on May 11.
Each meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Gretna Public Schools administration building, 11717 S. 216th St. All are welcome.