With enrollment dropping, Carmel Clay Schools considers closing elementary campuses

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With enrollment expected to continue dropping in Carmel Clay Schools at the elementary level in the coming years, district officials are trying to decide if it’s worth the cost of making major renovations at its two oldest campuses.

CCS Associate Supt. for Business Affairs Roger McMichael, who is also serving as co-interim superintendent, outlined projected enrollment numbers at an April 11 school board workshop. With elementary enrollment already 800 students below capacity and nearly 900 fewer students than that expected to be enrolled in 2026, he said it might make more sense to consider closing Orchard Park Elementary, Carmel Elementary or both.

“I do not think it would be (fiscally) responsible to renovate both of those buildings,” McMichael told the school board.

Orchard Park Elementary, near 106th Street and Westfield Boulevard, is the district’s oldest campus. Built in 1955, it underwent a major renovation in 1992 but is still outdated compared to the district’s newer campuses. Its capacity is 750 students and currently has 678 enrolled.

Carmel Elementary, 101 4th Ave SE, was built in 1961 and renovated in 1988. It can hold 530 students and currently has 480 enrolled.

McMichael said the cost to renovate each building would be between 75 to 90 percent of the cost to construct a new one. A new building costs approximately $26 million, he said, and it would likely be ready for students approximately three years after its construction is approved.

CCS has a capacity of about 7,800 elementary students, with 7,000 currently enrolled. Of the 800 empty seats, 100 are west of Meridian Street, the approximate geographic center of town. Of the 700 empty seats east of Meridian, 100 are between Meridian Street and Keystone Parkway. The remaining 600 seats are on the east side of town.

The district has four elementary schools west of Meridian Street and seven east of it, with the greatest amount of population growth among elementary students expected to occur on the west side of town. No matter what happens with the aging campuses, McMichael said redistricting will likely need to occur to shift students east.

McMichael said one solution could be to open a new elementary school on Clay Center Road – where the district owns 35 acres – and close Orchard Park and Carmel elementaries. The new school would be designed to hold 750 students, he said, 400 less than currently attend Orchard Park and Carmel, but by the time the new school would open elementary enrollment is expected to drop by approximately that amount.

According to a study by the IU Kelley School of Business’ Indiana Business Research Center, Carmel led the state in total population growth in 2016 with the addition of 2,977 residents, bringing its total to more than 91,000. Mayor Jim Brainard has said the population could be at 110,000 by 2020 and possibly as high as 160,000 someday.

Despite that, demographers expect numbers at CCS to continue dropping. McMichael said it’s in part because the type of housing being built in Carmel – mostly condos and high-end apartments – doesn’t typically attract families with young children.

“There’s a very direct relationship between what the rental amount is and how many students you get,” McMichael said. “The higher the amount, the fewer the students.”

CCS officials will schedule a series of community meetings to present information on this topic and gather feedback before presenting a recommendation to the school board.

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