CHAMPAIGN – School officials say population trends and new development in Champaign and Savoy that emerged after demographer Robert Dentler completed his study justify two new schools.
Chief financial officer Gene Logas said Dentler's study, completed in 2004, projects 202 new elementary students for the Champaign district between now and 2008-09, when the new schools would be completed.
Add that to 184 students displaced when four portable classrooms are removed from several elementary schools and four classrooms at Robeson School are converted to other uses, and you wind up with 386 students – enough to fill an entire school, he said.
The district already has space in two schools to accommodate most of those students – 220 seats open at Stratton School, built for about 550 students; and at least 90 seats at Garden Hills.
But Logas said the district plans to use that space the next few years to shuffle students as all the elementary schools undergo extensive renovations if voters approve the bond issue.
By the time that work is completed, the district will need every available seat, Logas said. Between 2009 and 2013, Dentler projects 436 new elementary students in the district – more than enough for a second school.
Source: Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, Woods & Poole Economics
Demographic estimates predict a population wave will hit the elementary-age ranks by 2020 - and later at the middle and high school levels.
Logas said Dentler's study failed to take into consideration the residential boom in Savoy and new construction in Champaign subdivisions like Trails at Brittany.
For his projections, Logas gathered data on housing starts planned in Champaign and Savoy. By the time all the new elementary schools would open in 2008-09, Savoy will have 928 more homes and Champaign will have more than 2,000 – none counted in Dentler's study, he said.
Projecting the future
That raises some questions: How many children will those new homes have? How many will be students new to the district versus families moving around within Champaign? And how many will opt to send their children to Champaign schools instead of private schools?
Nationally, school officials count on 1.5 children for every new single-family home and 0.25 children for a multifamily unit such as a duplex, said Arlene Blank, former assistant superintendent in Champaign and now a school board member. Champaign used that formula for years, and "we were really right on track," Blank said.
Even assuming one child per household, with half of those at the elementary level, that's 434 new elementary students in Savoy alone, Logas said. And even if only half go to Champaign schools, that's 217 students in Savoy beyond Dentler's projections.
In Colorado Springs, where Logas worked previously, school officials fine-tuned the national formula based on local growth and other factors. They counted on 0.74 children per household – 0.34 elementary students, 0.16 middle-school students and 0.24 high school students.
Applying that formula to the Savoy development produces 315 new elementary students; with Champaign and Savoy combined, you get nearly 900.
"These are pretty good numbers we're looking at," Logas said. "Things are going to change."
City officials expect Champaign to grow by 11,000 residents within the next five years.
But countywide projections tell a different story: considerably slower growth. Champaign County's population is expected to grow from nearly 180,000 in 2000 to 204,540 by 2030, an average increase of 4.6 percent a decade, according to projections used by the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.
Among school-age children, county projections show a substantial population wave hitting elementary schools by 2020 and middle schools and high schools five to 10 years later.
The numbers project a 1.5 percent increase among 5- to 9-year-olds countywide by 2010, or about 150 children – "not very significant," said Frank DiNovo, the planning commission's director of planning and community development. But by 2020, that population would jump by 1,370 children, or 12.7 percent.
It's a sort of second-wave baby boomlet – the grandchildren of the baby boomers. Each generation spawned by the boomers conceived from 1946 to 1964 passes through the population pipeline every 20 to 30 years.
DiNovo said the numbers have to be used with some caution when making school projections. For one, they rely on demographic averages from across the county, and the Champaign school district has a very different ethnic profile from, say, Tolono.
Also, the numbers prepared by national demographers Woods & Poole in 2002 for every county in the country didn't apply "a lot of local detail," DiNovo said.
Their model is based on births, deaths and the number of people expected to move in and out of an area, called "in-migration and out-migration." The latter is "the hardest thing to get a handle on," DiNovo said, as it relies on job growth, development and other economic factors. He said the model doesn't work well for university communities because Woods & Poole assume government employment is not a primary industry, even though the University of Illinois is the economic engine for Champaign County. So population projections tend to be conservative.
Another factor: the UI's new strategic plan calls for possibly moving the Orchard Downs family student housing complex, which currently has 130 children, to Champaign.
By any calculation, Logas said, the new schools are needed.
"I'm not doing my job as a school administrator ... if I did not recommend those new schools to the board," he said.
Logas and school officials are confident Champaign will attract more students with its strong academic programs, especially in gifted education; improvements in test scores and discipline, especially at the elementary level; and the $30 million worth of improvements – new computer labs, libraries and gymnasiums – planned at eight elementary schools.
"More and more are going to come our way," Logas said.