WALNUT CREEK -- An enrollment boom within the local school district will mean enough new students to fill another school -- and school officials plan to reclaim one.
Walnut Creek School District trustees voted earlier this month to let The Dorris-Eaton School's lease of the former Parkmead Intermediate School expire in June 2015, then use that facility for district students.
Dorris-Eaton has rented out the former intermediate school, adjacent to Parkmead Elementary School, for three decades. Parkmead Elementary has remained a district school.
What grades the former intermediate school will serve, or how feeder patterns may change, has not yet been decided and will not be known until next school year, according to Superintendent Patty Wool.
What district officials do know is that even though Walnut Creek faced declining enrollment just a few years ago, that trend has reversed.
"The issue is our campuses were created for a certain size student body, and we have the Dorris-Eaton campus; it is our school, and we now need it," Wool said. "We have increased by 500 students (since 2007) and that constitutes an elementary school, and yet we did not open elementary school. So taking the school back is so critical."
Classes at the former Parkmead Intermediate School are set to resume in August 2015, just two months after Dorris-Eaton will leave a site it has called home for 34 years. Head of School Gerald Ludden says Dorris-Eaton will find a new facility in the same general area.
"What we have done for 60 years is because of what occurs in the classrooms by our curriculum, by our faculty, by our students and by our families -- and not by our buildings," he said.
The district closed Parkmead Intermediate in 1979 and subsequently rented the building out to Dorris-Eaton.
Signs of the need for another school in Walnut Creek have become apparent, according to some who say a lack of classroom space has led to kindergarten classes being split into morning and afternoon sessions. Seven portable classrooms have been added in the district over the past two years, and no vacant classroom space is currently available anywhere in the district.
The "new" school won't necessarily reopen as a middle school, Wool said. Grades to be housed there have not been decided or debated, she said. In fact, middle school enrollment is expected to stay relatively flat during the next five years, according to consulting group Total School Solutions, which did a demographics study for the district.
Adding a new school, however, is bound to have some effects. In a March 24 memo to the governing board about enrollment and growth, Wool said, "WCSD will need to consider new school boundaries and/or grade level configuration in the next few years."
The demographics study shows not a tidal wave of students coming to the district, but instead a steady flow, with 175 additional students in the next several years. Most growth in the district is projected in kindergarten through fifth grades.
The growth already has begun. In 2007, total district enrollment was about 3,100 students; by this year, that number has jumped to nearly 3,600.
Consultants examined the county's birthrate, enrollment trends and residential development, and determined there would be "moderate growth" for Walnut Creek schools over the next 10 years. Kindergarten enrollment is expected to increase between 1 and 2 percent annually.
If projections are wrong, Wool says in the same memo, the district could allow more interdistrict transfers to fill openings at the former Parkmead Intermediate campus.
A "new" school does not come cheap. The cost to bring the former intermediate school site up to district standards is nearly $900,000, to be paid for through developer fees as well as anticipated lease income, according to district estimates. The school would cost about $565,000 a year to operate, not including the cost of teachers and supplies. Those expenses would be transferred from the other school sites or offset as new students enroll, according to a memo from Wool and Kevin Collins, chief business official for the district.
These costs would start with the 2015-16 budget year, when the district is projected to come out of deficit spending.
"Our district would be able to absorb these ongoing costs without affecting our general fund reserves," according to the memo.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.