Tabbed as a "school of the future," open-area classrooms will allow for more project-based learning, group projects and presentations. Students who once attended J.E. Robins and Watts elementary schools will make up the new school's population.
The new school has faced funding issues almost immediately after the project got the go-ahead in April of 2010. Although the authority and Kanawha County Schools initially thought the project would cost about $12 million, massive site preparation expenses helped bloat that figure to closer to $21 million.
To try and control some expenses, the authority and county decided in March to scale back the size of the school. Krason, whose firm is also working on this school project, told the Daily Mail at the time the move trimmed about 7,000 square feet from the project, bringing the building size to about 52,000 square feet.
Although the Daily Mail reported in March the school would accommodate 400 students, Krason said Sunday the school was originally designed to house 435 students and that didn't change with the redesign.
In the past decade the average combined enrollment for Robins and Watts is 429 students, according to state data. The combined population has been below 400 students once during that time period and above 435 students four times. This year's combined enrollment is 432 students.
Enrollment capacity and building size are some of the most important pieces of discussion when designing a school, said Manchin of the school building authority. There is a planning phase before any construction begins where the authority gets input from architects, teachers, administrators and local community members.
He said he has been intimately involved in the design of the new school, and has never heard any concerns that the building might be too small.
"Since I've been here . . . we've never opened up a building where the day we opened it, it was too small. That has never happened," Manchin said.
Henry Nearman is the current principal at Robins and will head the new school once it opens. Although he said he thinks it's too soon to start planning for more students than predicted, the swell in student population at Mary C. Snow has not gone unnoticed by him.
"If the trend holds true for what happened at West Side, then it's easy to anticipate the same thing happening at the second West Side elementary," he said Friday.
He didn't think the revitalization of the West Side would have the same effect on his school as it did at Mary C. Snow, because most of that housing is in the Mary C. Snow attendance district. However, he thought the appeal of a new school building with a unique curriculum could "pique people's interest."
Officials are looking at a variety of options to alleviate overcrowding at Mary C. Snow.
Last Thursday, school and county officials met with representatives from Grandview Elementary School, also located on Charleston's West Side. The school has 246 students right now and would gladly take some from Mary C. Snow, said principal Michelle Settle.
More students would mean no split classes at Grandview-multiple grade levels in one room-and the potential for more arts and music lessons during the week, Settle said.
The county is looking to redistrict students living at the Orchard Manor facility from Mary C. Snow to Grandview, said Roberts, assistant superintendent for elementary schools. The county is also looking at moving a few pre-school programs to other schools in the area, Roberts said.
The redistricting would only shift about 40 students from Mary C. Snow. Combined with moving the programs, it would open up one additional classroom at the school, Lee said.
She hates to see any students leave, but there are few other options. The school already requires proof of residency for any new students, and it's forced to turn away families fairly frequently, Lee said.
When asked what else could be done, assistant principal Beth Sturgill laughed and said, "You got a hammer? We'll start building."
Watts said the problem won't fix itself, but he's confident the school and county will find a solution. He also mentioned moving the special programs, and suggested the school might have to look at portable classrooms. Whatever the answer is though, he expects it soon.
"By July, I think there should be a concerted effort to get the population of Mary C. Snow down to 400 kids. Or under," Watts said.
Manchin repeatedly said the authority rarely sees rapid growth like that reported from the school. Although he said he wants more time to research the situation, he said it's possible the authority could work to find a "remedy" to the problem. He said he did not want to speculate as to what that remedy could be.