Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Private schools in building boom

Millions go into facilities despite little student growth

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributer Contributor

Cincinnati Country Day's new $20 million building.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        When classes resume Wednesday, students at Cincinnati Country Day School leave behind 42 modular classrooms and enter a new 97,000-square-foot building complete with a 535-seat theater and dining commons.

        The $20 million facility — on the site of the old upper school, demolished a year ago — was built not to increase enrollment, but to enhance curriculum at the school of 884 students.

        It is a theme repeated throughout private and parochial schools in Greater Cincinnati, where enrollment growth is modest but construction explosive.

        Schools are upgrading aging facilities to meet modern teaching methods.

        It's worth the money, said Scot Perlman, who has three daughters at Yavneh Day School in Kenwood, which is building an $8.1 million addition.

        “As a parent, I'm very excited to help develop programs that will expand opportunities and help our school compete with public schools,” Mr. Perlman said.

        At Cincinnati Country Day, enrollment is at an all-time high, but only 12 more than the school's previous peak enrollment.

        “We have a very distinct, unique culture. It's the primary reason people come here,” said Charles Clark, head of the Indian Hill school. “Academics and other educational programs come alive in a facility.”

  Enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools across the nation rose about 18.3 percent between 1985 and 1999 from 44.9 million children to 53.2 million.
  During that same period, enrollment in private schools grew at a much slower pace of about 7.4 percent. In 1985 there were about 5.5 million children enrolled in private schools. By 1999 that number had risen to about 5.9 million.
  Projections from the National Center for Education Statistics estimate public school enrollment may grow to 54.7 million by 2005, an increase of 2.3 percent. Private school enrollment is expected to rise 1.9 percent by 2005, to just over 6 million.
  Source: U.S. Department of Education
        Cincinnati Christian School saw enrollment jump from 456 to 545 over the last year. The school rents space at Tri-County Assembly of God Church in Fairfield for students in grades kindergarten to 12. The jump, says a school spokesman, was in part caused by transfers from Butler County Christian Academy in Fairfield, which closed in June.

        The school is attractive to parents “looking for something that's going to give their child a well-rounded education ... (with) a heart to impact the world for the right reasons, not just to make big bucks,” says Sherry Wilkerson, development coordinator.

        To accommodate the growth, two modular units were installed over the summer. The school has purchased 20 acres off Seward Road about 4 miles north of its current home and plans to build a new campus.

        In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, where 29,324 elementary school students in 35 schools and 12,022 high school students attended classes in 16 high schools last year, educators expect small enrollment gains.

        "There may be a little bit of an increase, but not a lot,” said Dan Andriacco, the archdiocese's communications director.

        The church is studying a plan to relocate Middletown's Bishop Fenwick High School onto a 66-acre site along Ohio 122, east of Interstate 75 in Franklin Township. It would be built to accommodate about 650 students initially and up to 1,000 long-term to serve rapidly growing feeder parishes in communities such as Springboro and Mason.

        At Moeller High School in Kenwood, enrollment is 930, up slightly from last year's 918, said Principal Dan Ledford.

        Despite the increase — and with no plans to grow much bigger — the school is in the middle of a three-year, $8 million construction project begun last year. It will add a new gymnasium and library, eight classrooms, new weight and wrestling rooms, along with remodeled living quarters for faculty priests.

        “Philosophically, we do not want a school larger than about 1,000 students,” Mr. Ledford said.

        “Our mission is to serve the 11 or 12 feeder elementary schools and the Catholic population in those parishes. When we're done, we think we'll be able to accommodate growth within the areas we serve.”

        Enrollment is steady as well in the Diocese of Covington, which has 32 grade schools and nine high schools in 14 Northern Kentucky counties. Last year there were 12,135 students and this year 12,471.

        Over the past 11 years enrollment has grown by 336 students.

        In the last two years, St. Henry, in Elsmere, and Covington's Holy Cross parishes have opened elementary schools, said Lawrence Bowman, director for Catholic education for the diocese.

        “Our growth hasn't been explosive, but slow and steady,” said Tim Fitzgerald, acting communications director for the Diocese of Covington.

        The $8.1 million construction project began last fall at Yavneh Day School in the Kenwood area. The 50,000-square-foot addition will include a multimedia center, a science center, art studio, 7,500- square-foot gymnasium and classrooms. It should be finished by fall 2001.

        It is part of a three-year expansion that will allow enrollment to grow from 400 to 550 in the next couple of years, said Barb Rabkin, Yavneh's director of development.

        “I think the smaller environment Yavneh provides is better for students in those tough junior high years,” Mr. Perlman said. “This will let us continue to offer that environment to our older students.”

        And the choices continue to grow.

        A year from now the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio plans to open an elementary school in the former Natural History Museum on Gilbert Avenue.


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