BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer
New school buildings and additions are popping up all over Northern Kentucky.
It's all part of the area's growth spurt: More industry means more employees, many with families of children who need an education. In the next few years residents in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties will see nearly a dozen new buildings, and schools will spend millions to provide more classrooms and update facilities.
The building boom is most apparent in the region's suburban areas. Boone County's first Catholic high school is being built just outside Erlanger. St. Henry will open this fall. The new Erpenbeck Elementary School near Union and the new Summit View Elementary and Middle schools in Independence will also open at the start of the 1998-99 school year.
But in Northern Kentucky's more urban cities of Bellevue, Covington and Newport, construction needs are often hampered by a decline in school enrollment, a drop in local revenues and a lack of land. "It's one of those things that's hard to gauge," Kenton County Superintendent Neil Stiegelmeyer said. "Sometimes you have people moving around in the district and you try to build that into your design. But housing projects can come up, so we build schools in such a way that if we needed to we could expand them."
The Kenton County School District is the largest in Northern Kentucky with 22 facilities and more than 12,000 students. The district is building in Independence to relieve pressure on existing elementary and middle schools.
Boone County Schools are a close second behind Kenton County with 17 schools and just under 12,000 students. Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said the district grows by 350 elementary students a year.
"We've done a lot of different things so that each school is making better use of existing space," Mr. Blavatt said. "By 2000 we hope to have another site available for a new elementary school in the northern part of the county."
And in a few years there will be a need for another middle school -- when all of those elementary students are a little older.
Erlanger-Elsmere students are already feeling the crunch at the middle school level. The district will break ground on an 18-classroom addition to Tichenor Middle School in about a month. The new wing will replace 18 classrooms now in the school's 1928 section. The old structure will be used for district, special education and community activities.
"We are experiencing growth," Superintendent James Molley said. A portable classroom was added at Howell Elementary School. "We're looking for a building project there to free up space for a new library and classrooms."
A new middle school in Dayton will solve several problems, Dayton Schools Superintendent Gary Rye said.
"If we're able to complete this addition, it really meets the majority of our needs," Mr. Rye said. "It's a blessing for us in more than one or two ways."
Here's how: The extra classroom space means seventh- and eighth-graders move out of the high school and sixth-graders leave the elementary school. That move will free up five classrooms in the elementary building and enable the district's preschool, now housed in a leased building, to move onto the school campus.
New middle school space is also being created in Ludlow and Fort Thomas schools. Newport Schools built a new middle school three years ago, and Campbell County Schools are anticipating the need for more middle school space in about five years.
Two districts, Bellevue and Walton Verona, actually have some room to work with.
Bellevue Superintendent Ora Cobb Jr. said his district must find ways to preserve its buildings because there is no space in the city to build a new school. That means renovation work this summer, including the addition of an elevator to the five-story Grandview Elementary.
"Our enrollment is steady but we still need tremendous renovations to our high school, which is 70 years old, and to Grandview Elementary, where parts are wearing out," Mr. Cobb said.
Two years ago Walton Verona Superintendent Bob Storer thought he'd be building a new high school. But enrollment in this southern Boone County district isn't growing as fast as projected.
"We're not ready," Mr. Storer said. "We figured we would need 1,200 new students before we could build and now we have 908." That's about 15 new students a year compared to the 350 that move into the Boone County district each year.
Within the Newport School system, the big problem is cash. A jump in enrollment three years ago made building the new middle school necessary.
"We'll be paying that off the rest of our lives," Superintendent Dan Sullivan said.
The district pays almost $900,000 a year in debts for the middle school and the high school, built in 1981. Mr. Sullivan said other schools need extensive renovations and air conditioning -- projects that could cost between $6 million and $8 million. Because of the city's tax base and population, the district can borrow only $2.5 million.
"It's OK to (issue bonds), but the unfortunate thing is you have to pay them back," Mr. Sullivan said. "We need more upfront dollars. It wouldn't hurt to win the lottery."