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South Bend school officials present options for the future of secondary schools

FILE PHOTO: Justin Hicks

The South Bend Community School Corporation continues to seek input on its 5 to 10-year facilities master plan.

The plan comes as the district tries to correct years of declining enrollment and underutilized space at almost all district schools.

The district has closed seven schools since 2018, including two elementary schools last year, and is in negotiations to sell its downtown administration building to the city of South Bend.

At a community meeting Thursday night, planning consultant Tracy Richter presented three options for the district’s secondary schools.

Two options involve closing Clay High School and replacing it with another district facility — either a sports complex or a career and technical education (CTE) center. The third option keeps all high schools open but closes two middle schools.

“Schools aren’t in the business for closing schools. That’s bad business,” Richter said. “But sometimes you have to realign your facilities and get your square footage to where you need it to be. Because you’re going to see that there’s dollars being spent on facilities where there ain’t kids.”

According to figures presented Thursday, the district expects to lose almost 1,000 more students in the next 5 years.

Only one of the district’s four high schools and three of its seven middle schools are operating at close to 100 percent capacity. Richter said that works out to about 4,100 empty seats at the secondary level.

“Somehow that has to be corrected. In some way, shape or form, that has to be corrected,” he said. “The amount that you have to maintain — sweep the floors, turn the lights on, heat and cooling, mow the yard — all those expenses go to 4,100 empty seats.”

Richter emphasized that none of the options are final, and that the right solution probably involves some combination of the three.

“There’s going to be options that you don’t like. And you know what? That’s okay — that’s what we need to hear,” he said. “We would sure like to see what makes options better, what makes scenarios better.”

The district is running a survey through May 15 to gather more feedback on the plan. Paper copies will be available at district schools and in the district’s offices.

Here are the three options presented Thursday night:

Option A

The first option would close Clay High School and conduct a “selective demolition” to transform it into a district-wide sports complex. It also calls for the district to open a new CTE center in a central location.

As for middle schools, Clay International Academy would convert from a K-8 school to a 6-12 performing arts and dual language academy. That would require building an addition to the Clay IA facility and moving the school’s international magnet program to Edison Middle School.

The plan would also move Kennedy Academy into LaSalle Academy, which has a utilization rate below 38 percent — the district’s lowest by far. The Kennedy building would then become a district-wide pre-K facility.

In all three options, Washington High School would be renovated into a “medical academy” with operational health and dental clinics.

None of the three options call for capital projects at Adams and Riley High Schools, or at Dickinson Fine Arts Academy, Jefferson Traditional School, Edison, Jackson and Navarre Middle Schools.

All in all, Option A would decrease excess capacity by 1,510 seats. Middle school utilization would increase from 66 to 74 percent, and high school utilization from 66 to 82 percent.

Option B

The second option would also close Clay High School and conduct selective demolition, but it would be replaced by a new district-wide CTE center.

Clay IA’s international program would still move to Edison, but LaSalle Academy students would move to the Clay IA building. The 6-12 performing arts and dual language academy would then open in the LaSalle building.

All in all, Option B would decrease excess capacity by 1,071 seats. Middle school utilization would increase from 66 to 69 percent, and high school utilization from 66 to 82 percent.

Option C

The third option would close two middle schools, but keep all four high schools open. A new CTE center would also open at a central location.

Riley and Clay High School would convert to 6-12 schools — Edison would consolidate into Clay, and Jackson would consolidate into Riley. That would require “significant condition updates” to Clay.

As in Option A, Kennedy Academy would move to the LaSalle Academy building, and the Kennedy facility would become a district-wide pre-K center.

All in all, Option C would decrease excess capacity by 1,830 seats. Middle school utilization would increase from 66 to 77 percent, and high school utilization from 66 to 77 percent.

Richter said the consulting firm, HPM, is using a set of guiding principles — such as equitable resources, transportation, geographic feeder patterns and educational pathways — to judge the scenarios. Option A appears to fulfill most of those requirements.


Contact Gemma at or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

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