In the 1990s, the Boise School District raced to keep up with growth in Southeast Boise, constructing a string of schools from White Pine Elementary on Linden Street to Les Bois Junior High, nearly 5 miles to the east near Idaho 21.
Then enrollment dipped. For nearly two decades, the talk of school growth shifted to the West Ada School District, where between 500 and 1,000 new students enrolled each year.
Now the Boise district is feeling the pinch from growth again, this time in its eastern and southwestern sections.
Harris Ranch-area development could have more than 3,000 homes when all is said and done, but it has no elementary school.
In Southwest Boise, the proposed Syringa Valley development around Cole Road is expected to add 2,000 homes over the next 20 years.
“At some point, you have to have a discussion about what we are going to do about it,” said Coby Dennis, deputy superintendent.
The discussions appear to have begun. The district is working with Harris Ranch developers who are working on donating land for an elementary school somewhere southeast of Fire Station 15 at 3676 E. Warm Springs Ave. East Junior High, built in 2009, is already in that area.
The district already has spent $1.7 million for land near Cole Road and a portion of West Lake Hazel Road, yet to be constructed, for a new secondary school in the Syringa Valley development south of Interstate 84. District administrators are hoping for a donation of land for a new elementary school in the same development.
How are we going to deal with the growth that is continuing out there at Harris Ranch?
Coby Dennis, deputy superintendent
Public discussion on new schools is likely to take a sharper focus as the district goes through a study of its facilities in the next few months. It is looking for public reaction on how it should move ahead with updating buildings and whether it should spend millions on new schools.
An audit of facilities, conducted by an Ohio education planning company, is expected to be in the hands of district administrators by the end of July.
The report will detail the conditions of Boise’s school buildings, assess how well buildings enhance education and look at the district’s future growth.
Boise School District’s growth has been tepid — about 3 percent over the past decade, to 25,591 in 2015-16.
HARRIS RANCH GROWTH
Boise has wrestled with Harris Ranch growth for a number of years. Nearby schools, including Riverside, Liberty and Roosevelt elementaries, are taking the overflow and are at or near capacity. About 200 Harris Ranch students are spread among the three schools.
Adams Elementary, whose attendance boundaries include Harris Ranch, had 347 students last year, slightly above its 325-student capacity. And more homes and students are coming, Dennis said.
Even with the crowding, the district isn’t yet proposing a school construction bond. Other options are possible, such as changing school boundaries or adding portable buildings at other schools.
Whittier, built in 1949, has gone from a quiet little school with about 300 students to one that is packed with 500 students and a dozen portable classroom buildings.
But there are limits to those options. “We can’t keep expanding Riverside, and Adams is a small school,” Dennis said.
SYRINGA VALLEY: BIG POTENTIAL GROWTH
The Boise district isn’t feeling the same immediacy at Syringa Valley, because the project is still in development.
Last spring, district trustees purchased 57 acres in the development, more than 3 miles south of I-84, but don’t yet have a blueprint for how to use the land.
The district often buys land ahead of development, so it can have property in the right place when it needs to construct the school to serve the students. District officials expect to use the land for a high school or junior high. In the meantime, students in the Syringa Valley development would attend West Junior High and Borah High School.
WHITTIER ELEMENTARY’S UNEXPECTED CHANGE
Whittier Elementary, at 301 N. 29th St., was for years one of the district’s lowest-income schools, tucked into a nearly invisible part of Boise.
No more. Development of the Boise River whitewater park and the soon-to-open Esther Simplot Park already has led to plans for about 150 nearby apartment units. The College of Western Idaho has plans to build its Boise campus nearby at Whitewater Park Boulevard and Fairview Avenue, adding to the number of people who may choose to live in the West End.
Five years ago, Boise School District started a dual Spanish-English curriculum at Whittier, which attracted students from outside Whittier’s attendance zone.
Whittier, built in 1949, has gone from a quiet little school with about 300 students to a school packed with 500 students in the main building and a dozen portable classrooms.
Now the district faces having to deal with its own success.
One possibility: remove the portables and replace them with a second building, said Tracy Richter, owner of the company doing the district’s facilities study. Another option: add a third story to Whittier in a style reminiscent of more urban schools.
A third option, says Dennis, is to replace it with a new school as that part of town braces for more growth.
All these ideas are speculative. The study isn’t back yet. The public hasn’t weighed in. And trustees have made no decision about how to finance building improvements.
But no matter what happens, Dennis said, the decisions the district makes are likely to amount to a reinvestment into the district and the community.