Enrollment in Camas lower than expected

School district still expects building capacity issues

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Construction on Lacamas Lake Elementary School, shown here, is more than 40 percent complete. (photo courtesy of Camas School District)

A newly revised enrollment forecast for the Camas School District shows enrollment in 2017 was lower than anticipated, but still predicts capacity challenges ahead for several Camas school buildings.

“The district will continue to experience strong residential development over the next 20 years,” states CSD consultant Paul Dennis, of Cascade Planning Group, LLC, in his revised enrollment forecast, delivered to CSD School Board members earlier this month. “Accommodating growth over the next few years will present the greatest challenge until new capacity comes online.”

At a Camas School Board meeting held Jan. 8, Heidi Rosenberg, the district’s director of capital programs said lower-than-expected enrollment numbers in 2017 would give the district “some breathing room,” but that new forecasts show enrollment will be greater than building and portable capacity at the elementary level by 2025 and at the middle and high school levels by 2030. Current models also predict that individual buildings at all grade levels will have capacity problems by 2023.

“The numbers are not as onerous as the last forecast, so that’s good news,” Rosenberg said. “In 2036 we will need additional capacity … and we want to plan on not using portables.”

In the meantime, the district has a new elementary and high school coming online next school year. The new $44.6 million Lacamas Lake Elementary school, funded by a voter-approved bond in 2016 and now under construction north of Lacamas Lake off Northeast 232nd Avenue, can accommodate 600 students.

When it opens next fall, Lacamas Lake will replace the current Lacamas Heights Elementary building, at 4600 N.E. Garfield St. District leaders have been trying to figure out the best use for the nearly 60-year-old Lacamas Heights building, and said Jan. 8 that the unexpected break in high enrollment growth would give them some wiggle room.

“This forecast gives us time to take a breath,” CSD Superintendent Dr. Jeff Snell told the School Board on Jan. 8.

Adding that the district can’t do much with the existing Lacamas Heights building, Snell said there are certain Camas High School programs that might want to move to Lacamas Heights, as well as an opportunity for a preschool program. He credited Rosenberg and staff for reaching out to programs that might be a good fit for the Garfield Street building.

“Heidi has done a great job with outreach … a great job making sure Lacamas Heights will be right for whatever we want it for,” Snell said.

Rosenberg said the district may be able to re-open the building in 2019 instead of the fall of 2018. That would also give the district time to work with the city of Camas to get a fire-suppression system inside the 1960s era building.

“We still need to talk to Camas and may not be able to afford (it),” Rosenberg told the School Board. “The cost estimate is $215,000.”

District leaders met with members of the district’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Tuesday to discuss the new enrollment forecast and capacity at the district’s various school buildings.

Although the 2017 enrollment numbers were lower than projected, they were very close to the “high growth forecast” Dennis — a former Camas mayor and current head of the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association — developed for the school district in late 2014.

That 2014 forecast predicted 2,856 K-5 students, 1,757 middle school students and 2,387 high school students, for an overall enrollment of 7,000 K-12 students in 2017. Actual enrollment numbers were close: there were a total of 7,078 students enrolled in the Camas School District in 2017, with 2,971 K-5 students, 1,745 middle-schoolers and 2,362 high school students.

Dennis based his numbers on several factors, including local and regional economic conditions and land use policies; residential development trends; and birth rates.

Dennis’ revised CSD enrollment forecast shows numbers based on a baseline, as well as a “major buildout,” which assumes increased market interest in the Camas area and housing development that is 43 percent higher than the baseline forecast.

Both forecasts show CSD’s student enrollment climbing over the next 17 years — growing to 8,477 in the baseline forecast and 9,434 in the buildout forecast by 2035 — and then dropping slightly in 2036.

Rosenberg told the School Board on Jan. 8 that, certain schools are over capacity and certain schools are under capacity, and showed a forecast estimate that color-coded the district’s buildings and capacity levels. Green showed room in the buildings for increased enrollment, while yellow showed room only if portables were added into the equation. Orange meant individual schools were having capacity troubles and red showed that the buildings had become too crowded and would not be able to accommodate projected enrollment numbers.

By 2023, all grade levels are in the “orange zone.”

“By 2023, we will have issues at certain schools,” Rosenberg said. “By 2027, both middle schools and high schools turn red.”

Dennis’ report had a few suggestions for district leaders looking to accommodate continued enrollment growth, including adjusting boundaries before new developments crop up, to place new students in school buildings that still have room; transporting students from northern boundary areas to the Lacamas Lake school until new schools can be built in Washougal’s northwestern urban growth area; and discussing agreements with nearby school districts, such as Washougal and Green Mountain, to “adjust school boundaries and/or jointly serve development areas along common borders.”