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Where those 1.7 kids will go to school


Housing developers and school administrators are working closely together in the growing suburbs of Des Moines to plan for the impact new residents will have on the school systems.

One district, Bondurant-Farrar Community Schools, is relatively new to the growth, and Superintendent Craig Cochran is almost nervous with anticipation to see what enrollments will be at in the next few years. Until last year, the school system’s growth was relatively predictable, with 25-30 new students per year. This last year, the district had above-the-norm growth, with 35 new students. For here on out, it looks to be anybody’s guess.

“The last development, Deer Ridge, brought 84 kids from the construction of 50 houses,” Cochran said. “Normally, we would guess that you would get one kid per every new house. This addition figured out to be 1.7 kids per new house.”

Three builders currently have developments planned for Bondurant. Regency Builders alone plans to put up at least 200 houses, Cochran said. He says it’s easy to see why people want to move into the northeastern suburb, but he has no set-in-concrete formula to calculate how many to expect, not having had experience with growth of this magnitude before.

“The first thing about Bondurant is that the school system has a really good reputation,” he said. “We traditionally have had small class sizes, with 19 to 20 kids per teacher, which is pretty attractive. Plus, right now, with the interest rates so low, depending on the price of the house, you can get a 3 percent interest rate and put yourself into a bigger and better house.”

The most recent development showed a trend toward younger families moving into the district, suggesting that the $5.5 million addition to the elementary school that was completed 18 months ago will fill up quicker than expected. If that happens, the district may have to adopt some “creative solutions” to handle the increased enrollment until sometime around 2008, when it will have bonding capacity again.

“We owe on a previous build,” Cochran said. “The 1990 addition to the high school is not paid off until 2008, so that’s the absolute soonest that we could build. We’re hoping that the growth doesn’t catch us before we can build.”

Cochran said there’s a chance that the growth to the community will not strain the facilities enough to call for mobile buildings or extra space of other means,

“If we can spread the next 100 or 200 kids out evenly, we’ll be OK, but that’s not what usually happens,” he said.

Currently, about 1,040 kids are enrolled in the Bondurant-Farrar school district. There is one elementary school and one 7-12 building. Cochran said the district is in negotiations right now to buy 50 acres of land, and an architecture firm is already preparing ideas for the next building project.

“The need is pretty evenly spread out for building needs,” he said. “I’d much rather have growth than to be losing students.”


The Waukee Community School District is accustomed to growth. Superintendent Veronica Stalker says the last 10 years have been one population explosion after another. In 1993, just over 1,000 students were enrolled in Waukee schools. For August 2004, there are 4,048. The district expects to hit 7,000 students between the 2011 and 2012 school year. Stalker emphasizes that school officials won’t be caught by surprise by enrollment jumps.

“We’ve had growth every year for the last 10 years,” Stalker said. “Last year was our biggest increase – 540 students. This year we expect it to be somewhere in the low 400s again.”

This year’s commencement had 182 seniors. In contrast, there are 456 kindergartners. The Waukee district will continue to address enrollment growth with new construction, which Stalker said has been pretty continual for the past eight years. Her district encompasses all or part of the cities of Waukee, West Des Moines, Clive and Urbandale.

“The four fastest-growing communities in Iowa all make up part of the Waukee school district,” Stalker said. “We work closely with the city managers, the directors of economic development from each of our cities, as well as the developers and the builders in this area.”

The pattern of continual growth has actually made predicting easier, Stalker said. “We’ve developed a planning model that has allowed us to keep ahead of the enrollment so that we have classrooms ready as the students arrive,” she said.

“We’ve developed the kind of relationships that have allowed us to put a system in place for being able to predict our growth, along with 10 years of history that we can now use to make forward projections,” she said. “We advance our classes factoring in the growth, and we match that against our building capacity. We step back and say, ‘In this year, we’re going to need more room.’”

One thing Waukee school officials have learned is not to wait until the growth gets close to plan for what’s to come. Ground was just broken on the district’s fourth elementary school, which will open in the fall of 2005, and land is practically secured for the fifth, which may open as soon as 2007. A new junior high facility for eighth- and ninth- graders is expected to be completed next month for the coming school year.

Stalker said the district’s residents have not only come to expect the school projects, but have really supported them.

“Our community has gone to the polls every 18 to 30 months for the last 10 years and given us a ‘yes’ vote,” she said. “The recent vote was an 86 percent ‘yes’ vote. We have overwhelming, heartwarming community support.”

In 2003, voters in the Waukee district approved a bond issue, a local option sales tax and a physical plant and equipment levy for building improvements and construction.

“We believe that we’re well-positioned to move through the next five years with funding secured for our buildings,” Stalker said.


The Ankeny Community School District is no stranger to growth, but Superintendent Kent Mutchler said that doesn’t guarantee smooth transitions through the housing boom the district continues to experience. Just two and a half years ago, a facility planning committee looked at needs for the future. That panel’s findings are already outdated, he said, and starting this summer, a new committee now must put together their best guesses.   “The committee at that time recognized that we’d have class sizes of 600 by 2012,” Mutchler said. “We have five classes in our elementary schools right now that have class sizes of more than 500 students. Kindergarten registration showed 575 students. It looks like hitting that 600 per class will happen before 2012.”

Each of the last two years, enrollment has increased more than 200 students, whereas in prior years, it oscillated around 100. With Ankeny’s new elementary school opening this fall, that brings the district’s total to seven such schools, each serving 500 to 600 students, Mutchler said. The district also has two middle schools and one high school. This past school year, 6,450 students were enrolled in the district.

“Twenty-five percent of the residents in Ankeny are new within the last two years, and that doesn’t include rural areas which the district serves,” Mutchler said. “We’re watching a lot of the statistics and projections and trying to stay ahead.”

A record number of housing starts in the district this year suggests that the enrollment numbers will continue to rise. Mutchler said he pays close attention to where housing developments are being built, since Ankeny’s elementary schools are typically built in residential areas populated by young families.

“We try to work with and pay attention to the developers,” he said. “There is so much going on in town that I drive the new developments all the time to see where new schools might go.”

As the boundaries of Ankeny are stretched and houses continue to fill in available lots, Mutchler said it is important to the administrators and the community to maintain what makes the city and its schools special.

“Ankeny is unique in that there’s still a sense of smallness and community,” Mutchler said. “Our board did a study recently, and one thing that we took from that is that we really need to bend over backwards to create a sense of belonging for all the students.

“We consciously allocate resources to keep a smaller learning environment for a sense of belonging. We don’t want to get too large for the kids, and that is why we have such things as full-time nurses and counselors at each school and neighborhood elementaries.”

As the need arises, additions may be need for the two middle schools. The first of three phases of additions to Ankeny High School is under construction right now. Down the road seven to 10 years, when these classes of 500 or more enter the high school, even the additions may not be enough to hold them. This is among the things the new facility planning committee will need to address when it begins meeting, and the hope is that its predictions won’t be outdated two years from now.

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