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With increasing enrollment, Pleasant Valley is expanding 2 schools

The junior high and one elementary school will add more classroom space by the fall of 2024.

LE CLAIRE, Iowa — The Pleasant Valley Community School District is expanding two of its schools to meet the demands of increasing enrollment across the district.

The district has added about 750 new students in the last five years, according to a statement from district officials.

"Our enrollment has continuously increased," said Mike Peakin, the principal at Pleasant Valley Junior High. "Next year, we're anticipating anywhere between 915 and 940 students depending on how many come in, so next year will be pretty tight."

Peakin knows what comes next will not be ideal, both for students and staff. More students in the building, with graduating class sizes of around 400 to 450 students, means school leaders will need to get creative to maximize the space.

"We will, next year, have many teachers sharing classrooms, teachers on a cart where they'll be having some periods in one classroom and then having to go to another classroom for another period, just because we are maxed out with the classroom space we have for our staff," Peakin said.

The maxed-out building will soon look quite different.

A district plan involves adding on to the front of the junior high building before the start of the 2024-2025 school year, Superintendent Brian Strusz said. That addition will provide 16 new classrooms on the southwest side of the building and extend into the parking lot. Plans also include renovating the cafeteria and adding new teacher workspace.

The renovations are not unexpected, Strusz said. The junior high was last expanded in 2017, and in 2013 before that. This new construction plan is on track with the district's long-term renovation plan.

Credit: Pleasant Valley Schools

Strusz also said this new plan prepares Pleasant Valley for its future.

"We don't want to have classrooms that are built and they're empty," Strusz said. "So, it's how do we be as efficient and effective as possible through planning."

That means the district is thinking 10 to 20 years down the road, and how graduating class sizes continue to grow. A study done by the district shows enrollment in Pleasant Valley is increasing by about 100 students each year, Strusz said.

"Right now our class sizes are somewhere between 400 and 450," Strusz said. "We're trying to look at what happens if we ever hit 650. How do we get there, what are our opportunities?"

There is one of those opportunities at the district's newest school. Forest Grove Elementary opened in 2021 and is also receiving an expansion as part of this project.

"It might be 20 students joining us in the elementary, it might be 100 students joining us in the elementary, but we need to always be ready to respond," said Principal Chris Welch.

The expansion at Forest Grove includes adding 12 new classrooms. This project was already in the district's plan, but was initially expected to be completed for the 2026-2027 school year only if it was needed based on enrollment trends, according to a district spokesperson. Instead, the project is now expected to be completed at the same time as the junior high.

The projects, though, will not cost taxpayers in the district any additional money, Strusz said.

"Both of our projects, Forest Grove and Junior High, we are borrowing against future 1% sales tax funds, so we’re not going to the public to ask for additional funding," Strusz said. "As we continue to grow at a quick rate, we may not be able to keep that up and may need to do a bond at that time."

Initial estimates for the project came in at about $16.5 million. Strusz said Thursday the district has received bids for construction. The junior high project is expected to cost $10.5 million and the Forest Grove expansion is expected to cost about $4 million.

Construction on the projects at both schools could start as early as spring 2023.

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