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Eastbrook eyes expansion projects

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

Eastbrook Community Schools is looking at several potential projects to ease pressure on a growing student population.

The school district is working with Fort Wayne-based architectural firm Barton-Coe-Vilamaa to decide what projects to pursue.

“We’re looking at what we need to do (to create) more space, especially at our elementary schools,” said Eastbrook Superintendent Brett Garrett. “We’re working with (Barton-Coe-Vilamaa) to determine our next steps in a building project.”

Right now, Eastbrook South Elementary School has an overflow structure which houses the school’s library as well as media classes.

According to Garrett, the school has been growing consistently over the past five years. During the 2014-2015 school year the district had 1,539 students. This year the district is at 1,619 students.

Eastbrook is looking at several possible expansion and improvement projects. 

The projects include remodeling the elementary schools to increase student capacity, moving sixth graders from the elementary schools to the school’s main campus, upgrading roofs at the main campus, expanding its athletic facilities and potentially expanding its career and technical offerings.

The expansion of career and technical programs will help provide students a more diverse range of job opportunities after graduation, according to board member Danny Combs.

“It’s very important because not everyone is going to go to college,” Combs said. “We need to prepare (our students) for opportunities where they can leave high school and possibly have a career as an electrician, plumber or brick mason.”

The cost of the projects is yet to be determined.

Managing Director James Elizondo of Stifel Associates will be reviewing the school’s debt structure to see how feasible each project is in conjunction with the others.

“(We want) to have as minimal of an impact on the tax rates of our citizens as possible but also meet the education needs of our students,” Garrett said.

The first priority of the school is to solve the lack of space issue, then review further potential educational offerings.

“We have an architect, a financial advisor and now all we have to do is sit down and figure out how and where to proceed,” said school board member Dan Spencer.

Spencer said his biggest concern with funding is that Eastbrook has open enrollment.

“This year we have over 300 transfer students,” Spencer said. “(We have to) convince the Eastbrook taxpayers to build additional buildings (when students) may decide tomorrow to not go to Eastbrook.”

According to Garrett, the need to expand is a positive problem to have because it shows the quality of educational opportunities the school provides.

“I’m very thankful for the educational environment we have at Eastbrook,” Garrett said. “We’re blessed with good teachers (and) good students.”

The lack of space has forced the school to turn away non-resident students.

Garrett said it’s difficult to know when a school district is going to experience this type of growth.

“Students can choose to attend school wherever, so it’s really hard to predict,” he added. “It’s just been a challenge, but a good challenge.”

Garrett said he hopes the district will set a timeline for the project, or projects, this summer.