A committee studying ways to alleviate crowding at Bluffton and H.E. McCracken middle schools has narrowed its options to three recommendations.
The Bluffton Community Committee on Thursday whittled a list of possible short-term solutions to:
"The most immediate concern is to address next year, ... and we are getting close," committee spokesman and Bluffton High School principal Mark Dievendorf said.
Sixth- and seventh-graders currently attend Bluffton Middle. Eighth- and ninth-graders attend McCracken. Those grade structures -- unique among district middle schools -- were established in 2011 to temporarily relieve overcrowding at Bluffton High School.
However, school district officials have said the two middle schools have become too crowded to maintain those structures this fall. Bluffton Middle is only 20 students shy of its 1,035-student capacity. McCracken exceeds its 909-student capacity by 21, according to the district.
Adding modular classrooms of two, sectioned pods at the high school would cost about $2 million, the committee was told. Those classrooms might or might not be used specifically for ninth-grade classes, said the district's Terry Bennett, who is working with the committee.
Reconfiguring the middle schools back to sixth-through-eighth grades would mean setting new attendance zones, which the committee will study next week, Bennett said.
A wing of 20 classrooms would cost about $10 million and probably take two years to build, giving the high school room for another 374 students. However, by the time it's built, the student body may grow enough to fill it, according to district projections.
"The school would be at 100-percent capacity, giving them no room to grow," Bennett said.
A ninth-grade move would mean about 470 new students at the school of 1,124, which currently is at 78 percent of its capacity with only grades 10 through 12, Bennett said.
Some committee members say it's clear more schools eventually will be needed in the Bluffton area, however, the committee has not yet started formulating its long-term recommendations.
The school district has about $25 million from a 2008 bond issue to build a school on Davis Road that could accommodate children in kindergarten through eighth grade. Construction would take at least two years, and the school would have a capacity of about 800 students, Bennett said.