Fredericksburg will need to select a site for a new elementary school by 2020 and finalize plans for an addition to James Monroe High School the following year.

Those were the recommendations that Moseley Architects presented at a joint meeting of City Council and the School Board last week.

Hugh Mercer Elementary School is already bursting at the seams, with 351 students enrolled in kindergarten this year. That's the largest kindergarten class that John Russ, the school system's chief administrative officer, said that he's seen in his 18 years with the school system.

He said the pupil–teacher ratio for the school's kindergartners is 22–1, even with the recent addition of two kindergarten teachers.

"It's high," Russ said. "We would like it to be 20–1. I don't think that it's possible with the number of students we have. We don't have the space to add another teacher. If we did, we'd have to move into another modular. There are four now."

He said that the school system may need to install two or three modular classrooms, or "cottages" as the school system refers to them, at Hugh Mercer next year school year if the 2019 kindergarten class is as large as the current one or larger.

"That building is at capacity now," Russ said. "We just added eight classrooms several years ago."

Building an elementary school for second- and third-graders would give school officials flexibility in easing overcrowding not only at Hugh Mercer, but also at Walker–Grant Middle School, he said. Hugh Mercer could then be just for kindergarten and first grade, and sixth grade could move from Walker–Grant to Lafayette Upper Elementary School.

"Another option would be to add on to Lafayette," Russ said.

Lafayette was designed for a classroom addition when it was built 13 years ago. It can accommodate 1,010 students, and had 865 as of Sept. 30, 2017, according to Moseley's report. It projects enrollment of 923 students in 2022 and 852 in 2027.

Meanwhile Walker–Grant, which has a capacity of 880 students, is expected to have 901 students in 2022 and 939 in 2027, Moseley found.

The building has been designed for a small classroom addition, but it lacks space for resource programs. The report suggested that one option for dealing with this would be to renovate the technology education and old home economics spaces as additional instruction areas.

James Monroe High School, which was built in 2006 to replace the old high school building, is expected to exceed its capacity of 1,164 students by 2022 and every year beyond that through 2027, the report found. Moseley's recommendation is to add eight to 10 classrooms.

The city's 2019 budget includes $11 million for an expansion at Walker–Grant, with an estimated opening date of 2024, and $16.5 million for an expansion at James Monroe, with an estimated opening date of 2025. Bonds would be issued to fund both projects.

The budget's list of recommendations for future capital improvement projects includes $33.75 million for a new elementary school, but does not set a date for this.

Russ said city and school officials are meeting monthly to decide what to do based on Moseley Architects' report.

"That group will select the best option or options," he said, "and go from there."

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Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

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