In most years at Union Elementary School, one classroom for each of the school’s five grades was more than enough to fit all of the students.
The two-story school with a brick exterior is nestled away in the midst of cornfields south of Bargersville. Built in 1928 and containing just two bathrooms, it’s the oldest school in the Franklin school district and was built for a population size much smaller than what it is today.
Now, the kindergarten through fourth grade school has some grades split into multiple classrooms, and a previously unused storage room has been converted to an intervention classroom.
The increase in the school’s enrollment from 148 to 184 students since last school year is not a symptom of rapid population growth, though. Instead, it is the result of enrollment redistribution to relieve other Franklin schools facing capacity issues by moving hundreds of students in the district to buildings that had more space to accept them. The redistricting process had the greatest effect on Union Elementary, which added capacity, and Creekside Elementary School, which reduced student enrollment in anticipation of future residential developments nearby.
In the coming years, about 1,750 single-family homes and more than 525 multi-family apartment units are set to be built within Franklin’s school district boundaries. The district includes students from the city of Franklin, town of Bargersville residents who live in Union Township, and Johnson County residents who live outside of city and town limits.
While Franklin Community Middle School, Custer Baker Intermediate School and Franklin Community High School have room for a population boom, some elementary schools in the district did not, which necessitated the redistricting process, Franklin schools superintendent David Clendening said earlier this year.
Union Elementary School administration and staff had to plan for months to accommodate the changes, said Principal Katie Smith.
“This school year was the first year we have used every single classroom and space in our building since I’ve been here. It’s my sixth year here,” Smith said. “We had to do rearranging and shuffling. We have split usage of spaces, like (science, technology, engineering and math) and the library share a space. We had to be creative on the spaces we use for specials.”
Preparation for the changes started in April. The school welcomed new families in May and made staffing and classroom changes over the summer. With the additional students come two new teachers, including an external hire and one who transferred from Creekside as that school lost students to redistricting. With just one bathroom for boys and one for girls, students have assigned times to go to the bathroom, and the cafeteria now has an additional row of tables to accommodate the increase, she said.
At Creekside Elementary, the student population went from 615 students last school year to 510 students this year. Officials at Franklin Community School Corporation wanted to prepare for a surge of homes in nearby communities, including the new Bluffs at Youngs Creek development, which will include 478 single-family homes when construction is completed.
The temporary decrease in student population has added some relief to traffic at the school, but class sizes have remained the same at about 22 students per room, with some rooms now sitting vacant, said Mark Heiden, the school’s principal.
A trio of teachers left their roles as student population dropped. One went to Union, another went to Needham Elementary School and a third teacher stayed at Creekside but took on a new role, he said.
“We have noticed a small difference. There are a few less cars in car rider lines. Drop off and pickup goes smoothly, so probably a few less cars helps,” Heiden said. “Creekside now has the capacity space, the headroom for growth happening around the Bluffs at Youngs Creek and other areas. We now have the building capacity to gradually increase back up to where we were. It’s not impacted what we do every day or the services we offer. Generally, across Franklin schools, things have been better spread out to allow for growth where growth is happening.”