Moving sixth-graders to elementary schools would alleviate crowding at Bluffton and H.E. McCracken middle schools, a committee charged with addressing the issue learned Thursday.
But it comes with a price tag: about $1.5 million.
School district officials have said the two middle schools are too crowded to maintain their current grade structures this fall.
Sixth- and seventh-graders currently attend Bluffton Middle while eighth- and ninth-graders attend McCracken. That grade structure -- unique to those two schools -- was established in 2011 and designed as a temporary fix to address overcrowding at Bluffton High School.
The Bluffton Community Committee -- made up of 27 parents, teachers, principals and a Bluffton High School student -- met for the first time Thursday at Bluffton Middle School to consider both long- and short-term solutions to the problem.
One option, floated at a November meeting attended by about 250 parents and educators, was to move sixth-grader classes to elementary schools. At Thursday's meeting, the committee heard the costs and consequences that come with the idea.
Mobile classrooms would have to be added at three schools -- Okatie, Red Cedar and Pritchardville elementaries -- to provide the necessary space.
The cost of adding the eight mobiles, which includes site preparation and fence and infrastructure installation, is roughly $1.5 million, district facilities planning and construction officer Robert Oetting said.
Such a move would bring other consequences, Oetting said. Decision on the curriculum and electives offered to sixth-graders would have to be made. The elementary schools weren't built to hold that many students, so cafeterias might be too small. Because that option would send seventh- through ninth-graders to Bluffton and McCracken middle schools, there might be some increased costs for offering high school courses at those facilities.
Oetting said even if the plan were put into place, Bluffton schools would continue to struggle with capacity issues in just five years.
The committee heard the option toward the end of a two-and-a-half-hour meeting that also included an overview of current crowding problems and a simulation designed to get panel members thinking about issues in planning a school district.
Members asked a handful of questions about the option, but deferred most discussion to their next meeting so the plan could be compared to other choices.
The committee was told to submit other ideas to district staff by Monday, and will meet again at 6 p.m. Thursday at Bluffton Middle School. It is expected to present short-term solutions to the board of education by March, and long-term solutions by May.