School kids

Nola Johnson, right, talks to her friend as she eats lunch with other third graders Tuesday at Horizon Elementary School in Jerome.

JEROME — The Jerome School District is negotiating with a landowner about possibly buying property that could be the site of a future elementary school.

The school board heard an update Tuesday night but wasn’t slated to take action. There’s no timeline for when a decision could be made about buying land or potentially building a new school.

Like many school districts in the Magic Valley, Jerome has seen rapid growth as the area’s population continues to expand and new businesses come in. The district has gained more than 460 students since the 2010-11 school year.

As the school district moves forward with looking at facility needs, it will seek community feedback, Superintendent Dale Layne said Monday. Even though a new school would most likely be an elementary campus, “it doesn’t solve the number of students at our middle school.”

Jerome Middle School has about 1,000 students, which is “very large,” Layne said. “It’s going to take a lot of thought with ideas on how to best spread kids out.”

As of September, the Jerome School District had 4,107 students in preschool through 12th grades — 64 more than at the same time last school year.

During its search for land, the school district is targeting south Jerome because its current campuses are in the north part of the city.

District officials have talked with the owners of three properties. They’re in negotiations with one in particular but haven’t reached an agreement. The goal is to stay within Jerome city limits, if possible, Layne said, due to utility availability.

Whatever land the district purchases will most likely be the site for a new elementary school, Layne said. Even though the school district added classrooms to its existing elementary schools a few years ago, “we’re out of classroom space.”

Jerome School District has three elementary schools: Jefferson (grades K-3), Horizon (K-3) and Summit (4-5).

To help cope with growth, Jerome voters approved a nearly $24 million bond in 2014. The bulk of the money was used at Jerome High School for a new wing, including more classroom space and a second gymnasium. Money was also used to add classrooms at other campuses.

Now, one of the most immediate needs is more classroom space to accommodate elementary school students who have special needs, Layne said. A number of children have multiple needs, require equipment such as wheelchairs or lifts, or need multiple adults to help them.

Horizon Elementary’s special education classroom was designed for that program, “but it’s not large enough for the number of kids we currently have,” Layne said. “As we’ve grown overall with student enrollment, there has also been a big increase in the special needs population.”

Horizon’s principal Wendy Ohlensehlen wasn’t available to comment Monday.

As for Jerome’s elementary schools in general, “we’ve put more kids in the same amount of space,” Layne said, in terms of common areas. That means school cafeterias are crowded and there are issues scheduling lunchtimes, more congestion in hallways, and more traffic as parents drop off and pick up their children.

Having a school on the south side of Jerome would “spread out some of the congestion,” Layne said, adding it would hopefully allow for a neighborhood-oriented school where more children could walk.