Too close for comfort?
Howbert ‘will be crowded’ before new addition opens in January 2010

       With 35 or so additional students, Howbert Elementary students will get close to each other during the first semester of the 2009-10 school year.
       Maybe closer than they'd like?
       “Very candidly, they will be crowded in the first semester,” said Frank Bernhard, District 11's executive director of Transportation, Facilities and Security in an interview this week. “When we open the addition in January, it will seem like paradise.”
       The school board approved a budget of $1.2 million for the Howbert addition at its April 8 meeting.
       Exact designs are still being drawn up, but basic plans call for a four-classroom addition to go onto the north end of the building, taking up part of what is now playground area.
       Some interim relief could come if the district moves a two-room portable unit now at Buena Vista to Howbert, Bernhard said. Even after the addition goes in, the portable could remain, should the Pleasant Valley-area elementary want to use it for day care, as is the case at some other district elementaries.
       Buena Vista will no longer need the portable after this year because it is closing as an elementary school - the site may be the new home of the West Intergenerational Center - under the School Utilization Plan that the D-11 Board of Education approved in February.
       Until recent weeks, a Howbert addition had only been a long-range idea, with no set date. That changed in March, according to Bernhard, when staff and an ad hoc committee started focusing on new attendance-area school boundaries and decided it made sense to have some of the students from Whittier (another school that's closing) go to Howbert. Previously, the thinking had been to assign all the former Whittier kids to the new Westside Elementary (inside the West Middle School building). But Bernhard said the staff and committee decided it made more sense to draw a line along 30th Street, with students on the west side of it going to Howbert (a nearer school for most of them).
       That meant 52 former Whittier students at Howbert in 2009-10. Even with the school losing Kissing Camels from its attendance area (about 17 students, who will now go to Chipeta Elementary), Howbert would be at 118 percent capacity without an addition, Bernhard said.
       When the addition goes in, Howbert is expected to be at 88 percent capacity, which is close to the 85 percent ideal by leaving room to permit in students from other attendance areas (over and beyond those it now has), he said.
       From an educational standpoint, the addition will give Howbert a 300-student capacity, which is just within the district's ideal size for an elementary, because it allows more than one classroom at all or most grade levels - a scenario that allows team-teaching and more learning opportunities, D-11 officials believe.
       Note: An article on the Howbert addition in the April 9 Westside Pioneer reflected the previous long-range plan that anticipated its completion no sooner than the 2010-2011 school year. Questions about the speedier project timing led to this article.

Westside Pioneer article