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D91 board approves design for addition at overcrowded elementary school


IDAHO FALLS — After lunch, it’s a ten-minute dash to convert the multi-purpose from a lunchroom back to a gym. Custodians finish in the knick of time just before energetic second-graders burst in for P.E. Down the hall you’ll find the gifted and talented students trying not to take up too much space while sitting on mats on the floor.

This is the reality for the 650 students attending Sunnyside Elementary. For the last several years the school hasn’t had enough space to accommodate students.

“We’ve been adding some classrooms over the last few years so we can accommodate the growth that we see. Currently, we’ve turned almost any extra space into classroom space,” D91 spokeswoman Margaret Wimborne says.

The Idaho Falls School District 91 board has been considering an addition to the school because of overcrowding issues for some time. On Wednesday night, during a board meeting, trustees approved the district to move forward with the design process for an addition.

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Gifted and talented sit on mats instead of chairs to save space. | Natalia Hepworth,

The stand-alone addition would include four classroom spaces, restrooms, and a cafeteria. Administrators say these changes are estimated to cost some $2 million or more and would be taken out of the district’s reserve fund. Wimborne says they won’t have final costs until the bids come in.

“What the board is looking at with this addition to Sunnyside is really a short term fix. At the same time the district is working to create a 10-year master facilities plan,” Wimborne says.

The district has been working on a master facilities plan for the last few months and plans to present ideas that would address infrastructure issues throughout D91. Wimborne says part of that 10-year plan could be redrawing boundaries across the district for their elementary schools, which could help alleviate some overcrowding issues.

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Sunnyside Elementary School | Natalia Hepworth,

“The last time that was done was about 20 years ago,” Wimborne says.

For now, the Sunnyside issues have been on parents minds as students and teachers are having to navigate in close quarters.

“They now have four classrooms per grade level in grades one through five, and most of our schools have three classrooms per grade level,” Wimborne says. “We’ve changed lots of the space and renovated different spaces some to create classroom space.”

What once was a computer lab is now a classroom, as a special education room was divided by walls to make space for seconds graders, a gifted and talented class, and the vice principals office. What was initially a conference room is now a spot for special education students.

When Nettie Lee first brought her three kids to the school six years ago she was told at registration there wasn’t enough room for her kids and they would have to be transported to Longfellow Elementary School. That distance is roughly a mile and a half away, but highly inconvenient as the Lee family lived around the corner from Sunnyside Elementary. Thankfully, after a discussion, her kids made it in.

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“It does double duty. Part of the day it’s used for P.E. and other … and then it’s also used as a cafeteria … it’s really, really difficult to try and have all of those students fed and then still find time to do P.E. classes,” Wimborne says. | Natalia Hepworth,

“After talking with the district and school my kids made it in, but I know of many families that did not,” Lee says.

Lee says after being in the PTO for the past few years it’s been challenging to try and plan school activities because the gym capacity doesn’t match the student population — it’s simply too small.

“With the growth south of town we could expand Sunnyside and build a new school. I’m really hoping the board gets going on the expansion so it will be ready for next fall,” Lee says. “We have a great school with great teachers … they deserve more space.”

Wimborne say there will be opportunities in October for the community to provide more input on the facilities plan as the district puts together recommendations that will be made to the board on how to update and modernize district facilities.

“We really need the community to get involved and provide their input and share their thoughts on those plans and recommendations as they start coming together,” Wimborne says.

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Special education students have been placed in a former conference room. | Natalia Hepworth,
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