A new facility could be on the horizon for students at Hillcrest Elementary and Lakeside Academy — so long as Harrison Elementary gets one first.
Construction of a new Harrison Elementary school was placed at the top of the Hamilton County school board's facility needs priority list, and if the county commission chooses to move forward with the $35 million project, the three schools could be combined.
The new Harrison facility is due to be built in District 5, on donated land off Highway 58 that the Department of Education already owns, and would be able to hold approximately 1,000 students — a huge leap from the 400 students currently enrolled at Harrison Elementary.
If built, the new school could absorb the 360 students enrolled at Hillcrest and a portion of the 460 students at Lakeside. In the proposed scenario, Hillcrest would likely be closed and Lakeside would become a dedicated magnet school, said Justin Witt, director of maintenance and operations for HCDE. Existing teachers would likely be moved to the new facility, he added.
Though neither Hillcrest nor Lakeside topped the school board's priority list, both have suffered from issues stemming from age and overcrowding, said HCDE Communications Coordinator Amy Katcher.
Hillcrest is 69 years old and in need of plumbing and electrical upgrades, ceiling replacement and roof repairs, and a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, among other things, Katcher said. Additionally, the school has to use a portable structure to hold classes unable to fit in the main building.
Lakeside is 58 years old and has nine portable structures to hold overflow, eight of which are approximately 30 years old, Katcher said.
"The building itself would be crowded without those portables," said Witt, adding that if the new facility is built and students from Lakeside are moved, most if not all of those portables could be disposed of.
The new building would also be state-of-the-art and energy efficient, filled with the latest technology and the latest HVAC system, Witt added. Merging the schools would also mean less overhead and operational costs for the school system, he said.
Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey, who represents the Highway 58 area, called the possible merge "a smart initiative," citing its ability to provide students with a larger, more diverse selection of opportunities, like more foreign-language classes.
"You can do more when you have larger schools as opposed to if you have a small, 300-[member] student body," said Mackey.
One issue of concern would be the distance between Hillcrest and the site where the new Harrison facility would be, making for a potentially very long drive for parents with kids currently enrolled at Hillcrest. Witt said this will be a main topic in future discussions should the construction project receive funding.
For now, the scenario is still in its early stages and no decisions have been made by the county commission, which could choose not to fund any of the projects on the priority list.