JOHNSTOWN — The Greater Johnstown School District is weighing a plan to fully reopen the Knox Building for student instruction in time for the start of the 2023-2024 school year.
The site, which currently houses three pre-K classes, was formerly the home of Knox Junior High School before grades seven and eight were relocated to the high school after the 2020 school year in a cost-saving measure.
Under the district’s proposed plan, the Knox Building would house grades two through four starting next fall, with Pleasant Avenue Elementary containing pre-K through first grade, Warren Street Elementary hosting grades five through seven and the high school housing grades eight through 12.
During a presentation given at the Board of Education meeting in the Knox Auditorium on Oct. 13, Johnstown Superintendent Dr. William Crankshaw told the board that he’s strongly recommending reopening the Knox Building for full instruction.
“We’re really making every decision today for what it looks like 10-15 years down the road,” he told the board. “This will mean the reduction of the number of students in each of our buildings and getting back to using classrooms for their intended use.”
Under the administration’s proposed timeline, a public presentation set for Jan. 19 on the 2023-2024 school budget would also include a proposal for a Knox reopening plan.
Under the tentative timeline, the board could potentially approve the reopening plan at its Feb. 16 meeting, in advance of a March 1 deadline to submit a reopening plan to the New York State Education Department.
Crankshaw said the district would be conducting a transportation feasibility study in the coming weeks for the proposed Knox reopening.
The superintendent said discussions were held over the summer to hammer out a proposed reopening plan that included grade reconfigurations for the districts four schools.
“We had stakeholders from the JTA (Johnstown Teachers’ Association) and administrators, we all met in July and we sort of brainstormed the different configurations you might see if we opened the Knox Building,” Crankshaw explained during the presentation. “At this point, population is driving this conversation. Also the use of our current buildings that we have and we’re sort of bursting at the seams.”
A population study commissioned by the district shows a projected slow but steady decrease in the district’s enrollment over the next decade, with the Johnstown student population expected to decrease from 1,428 pupils in 2022 to 1,264 in 2031.
“We’re looking at a (projected) population decline of 150 students in 2031,” Crankshaw told the board. “It’s important for us to remember that that’s not a material change when you’re talking about planning for facilities and for staffing.”
Crankshaw noted that declining population is not new for the district, as Johnstown has lost 1,000 students since 1978.
While the student population is expected to decline slightly in the coming decade, the district believes a Knox reopening could alleviate the burden on the district’s three additional school buildings.
At Pleasant Avenue Elementary, which currently houses kindergarten through second grade, Crankshaw explained that space is limited under the current configuration.
“We find we’re even pulling kids in the hallways sometimes for confidential matters,” he told the board. “It’s a little bit tough in Pleasant Avenue right now. It is full and every single space is utilized at the moment.”
Crankshaw added that the current situation at the Warren Street Middle School, which houses grades three through six, is similar to Pleasant Valley.
“All spaces are being utilized for instruction,” he said.
The Knox Building currently houses the district’s administrative offices and its facilities headquarters.
The superintendent told the board that the district must factor in future state aid projections if the Knox school continues with reduced capacities.
“When you close a building and you don’t have students in it, there’s a chance you won’t get state aid for having no students in the building,” Crankshaw said. “Knox facilities are the heart of this community. If we can’t improve upon Knox’s facilities because we have no students in the building, that’s problematic down the road perhaps as well.”
The superintendent told the board that the proposed grade reconfiguration throughout district schools would not require the hiring of additional staff.
“This plan to reopen Knox would not mean hiring any additional administrators,” Crankshaw said. “It’s about having the right amount of support for the students that we place here. A lot of the things that we need are here, but don’t let me sugarcoat this, a lot of things will come up. We’ve got to think of a million different things.”
Crankshaw later added that the district does not expect to have to hire additional teachers if the Knox Building is reopened.
A district shared decision-making committee will continue to study the potential reopening, with the school board making the final decision on the proposal.
In 2019, the district shuttered the Glebe Street Elementary School after the district previously closed the Jansen Avenue Elementary School in 2009. In April 2020, the school board voted to close Knox Junior High, effective June 30, 2020. The district subsequently moved its pre-K classes to Knox, while Jansen was placed on the market and sold earlier this year.