GREAT FALLS — Walking through the halls at Meadow Lark Elementary School on Fox Farm Road in Great Falls, you may not immediately feel like the school is overcrowded - but teachers and staff will tell you it definitely is.
Compounding the problem is a large kindergarten class, so the district has decided to try to add more classrooms.
Ruth Uecker, Great Falls Public Schools Elementary Assistant Superintendent, is happy to explain the planned development at the school.
“Our proposed expansion will be to add two additional classrooms at the end of this wing,” she said as she walked down the wing.
The expansion will require a reconfiguration of the school playground.
“The additional square footage will go out on a portion of this playground but we can reconfigure what’s out here and allow for space,” said Uecker, standing in the doorway leading from the school out to the playground.
She believes the overcrowding is due to the school being located in a part of the city experiencing growth.
"You can see that growth out south of Great Falls. It continues to have a lot of construction in that area,” Uecker said. “We’ve tried to limit the number of students in this building, so we do not take permissive transfers. Only the kids that live in in the Meadow Lark attendance area can attend this school.”
Boundary readjustments have also been considered as a way to try to alleviate overcrowding.
“That process landed us to where we kept the boundaries as is because it really doesn’t make sense to bus kids past their neighborhood school to another school,” Uecker explained.
Principal Teresa Sprague says the limited space has forced teachers and staff to get creative.
"We're always looking for, 'Where could we have this group meet?' or sometimes they're using the lounge or they're using the space over here by the pop machine and they're sitting on the floor,” said Sprague.
Storage space is also an issue.
"Places where we can put chairs and things like that because we often times have to move those things,” Sprague explained. “With all these kids coming in for kindergarten registration coming up and our kindergarten class this year having 96 students, we know that they’re just going to grow and get bigger and we’re going to welcome that extra space for sure."
The addition of classrooms isn't the only work planned at the school, though. A computer lab is going to be converted.
"We are going to need to remodel this space and turn it into an additional classroom for the fall of this next school year,” said Uecker.
A move that may seem small compared to the rest of the plan, but a move that could prove to be a big help.
She said the district recently received a bid for the work to construct the additional classrooms but it was more than what the district can afford.
As of Thursday, the school district hoped to put the project back out to bid in the fall and have the classrooms ready to go in 2023.
If the bids in the fall are still over budget, Uecker said the district will cross that bridge at that time.
“It’s all part of the process. We know what we have for a budget and what we have to work with. If that happens, then we will put our heads down and figure out what we can do to respond to that,” Uecker said.
When asked if the district is worried the overcrowding could eventually lead to overcrowding at middle and high schools when the students at Meadow Lark get there, Uecker said that was not a concern at the time because although Meadow Lark is overcrowded, the overall enrollment in Great Falls Public Schools is stable.
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