IDAHO FALLS — Construction of the Bonneville School District’s 1,500-student high school is officially underway.
But the new school won’t open its doors until the 2018-19 school year, forcing the district to find alternative ways to serve its growing student body in the meantime.
“Really, the new high school can’t come soon enough,” said Bonneville Superintendent Chuck Shackett.
Shackett and other district officials ceremoniously broke ground at the new school’s construction site Friday. Last November, voters approved $63.5 million in bond measures for a new school, auditorium and athletic field.
The bond measures, which failed three consecutive times before passing, came as the district’s answer to four years of overcrowding at Bonneville and Hillcrest high schools.
The two schools can serve up to 1,250 students apiece and have taken the brunt of the district’s growth since 2010. (Last year Hillcrest’s enrollment exceeded its capacity by 209 students; Bonneville’s by 114.)
And the growth doesn’t appear to be stopping.
According to Shackett, the number of enrolled kindergarteners this year exceeded the number of high school graduates last year — by about 200 kids.
“And that’s not counting all the housing developments sprouting up across Ammon every month,” Shackett said.
The Bonneville district has been absorbing the rapid growth of Ammon, which boarders Idaho Falls along the foothills to the east. From 2000 to 2010, Ammon’s growth rate was 123.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census; it is currently Idaho’s 17th largest city.
Shackett pointed to three major ways of absorbing the growth during construction — and afterward.
The district has hauled in doublewide modular trailers to accommodate students.
Bonneville and Hillcrest have eight units apiece going into 2016-17 — enough to accommodate roughly 400 extra students at each school.
But the units come with a hefty price tag, said Shackett: They range from $80,000 to $100,000 new.
“Fortunately, we’ve been able to buy units from surrounding districts for anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 apiece,” he said.
He pointed to the residual costs of using the units. Earlier this year, the district paid out $50,000 just to bring needed electricity to two new trailers at Bonneville.
That doesn’t include costs for electricity throughout the year, Shackett added, which district officials estimate at roughly $2,400 per month for all units.
Shackett hopes to free up space in his district by providing students with more online options in the coming years.
Earlier this year, Bonneville partnered with a nationwide online academy to offer classes to students throughout the district, East Idaho and the state.
Williamsburg Academy will provide live, online courses to students enrolled in Bonneville’s online programs for kids in grades 6-12 starting this fall. Students from Jerome, north to Sun Valley and east to Idaho Falls can enroll. The district will also accept statewide applications on a “case-by-case” basis.
Bonneville started offering online courses to K-8 students in 2009. In 2011, the district extended enrollment to students in grades 9-12.
Roughly 105 students enrolled full-time online at Bonneville last year. But nearly 600 took at least one online course in order to work toward graduation.
“That does free up space,” said Shackett.
The district had planned to make online coursework mandatory for graduates, but abandoned the idea once the bond for the new school passed in November.
Growth capacity of new high school
Bonneville’s new high school will have the capacity to take on an additional 300 students.
In October, the district will know if funds are available to add eight additional classrooms to the new school.
The cost: roughly $1.3 million.
The district could also opt to frame the classes in and complete the finish work in-house and for less money, Shackett said.
Eight additional classrooms would increase the school’s capacity to 1,800 students.
The district has not completed the often difficult task of drawing up boundaries for who will attend the new school.
“We will wait as long as we can on that, due to the growth taking place in the district,” Shackett said, adding that finalized maps may not be released until December of next year.
The school is located at 4928 E 1st St. in Idaho Falls, between the district’s two existing high schools.
Patrons living in the district will see a raise of $2.92 per month for every $100,000 of taxable property, as a result of the project.