Parents shocked to hear of possible closure of Orchard Park, Carmel elementary schools

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Dozens of parents of children at Orchard Park and Carmel elementary schools attended an April 18 meeting to discuss the future of the aging campuses, and some of them were shocked to learn that Carmel Clay Schools is considering a plan to close both schools.

With enrollment expected to continue dropping in CCS 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 campuses most in need of upgrades.

CCS Associate Supt. for Business Affairs Roger McMichael, who is also serving as co-interim superintendent, outlined projected enrollment numbers at the meeting. 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.

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.

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 in three years elementary enrollment is expected to drop by approximately that amount.

Parents at the meeting questioned why the two campuses in the middle of the city were selected to potentially close when most of the empty seats are on the east side of town.

“You’re already shipping kids from the west side to the east, then you’re going to take some of those kids and ship them even farther east when the whole east side seems like it’s lower in capacity,” said Rose Kelly, an Orchard Park parent. “You would be more prepared for changes in the community in the future if you still had schools centrally located.”

McMichael said these two schools were selected to launch the discussion because they are next due for renovations, which could cost as much as 75 percent or more of the cost of constructing a new campus. He said the discussion is just beginning and that several opportunities to collect feedback and ideas will take place before he makes a recommendation to the school board.

Christopher Moore, an Orchard Park parent, rushed to the meeting near its conclusion after his wife texted him that the discussion included closing the school. Previously, they both thought the meeting would be about campus upgrades based on a letter sent by CCS to parents.

“I’m frustrated and in disbelief that this meeting was not advertised as a potential closure of Orchard Park Elementary. To me that is unfathomable,” Christopher Moore said after the meeting. “As a parent and educator myself, I’m just saddened that this was not communicated to the community in a way that (they could) truly voice their opinion. I would think that this entire place would be packed.”

CCS will hold another meeting for parents April 25 at Carmel Elementary. It will be followed by public meetings for the entire community at 6:30 p.m. May 1 at Clay Middle School, May 3 at Creekside Middle School and May 7 at Carmel Middle School.

Questions answered

Community members asked several questions of CCS Associate Supt. for Business Affairs Roger McMichael during the meeting. They included:

If CCS decides to close an elementary school, how does that impact maintenance needed in the next three years before a new campus is built?

CCS will continue to provide maintenance at any building to be closed, although it would not commit to any long-term fixes, such as a new roof. McMichael said CCS will ensure that students are comfortable and safe.

“We’re not going to let it get nasty looking and certainly not going to ignore things that affect the comfortable feel, that’s for sure,” he said.

What happens to an empty campus once it is closed?

CCS could look for another user, but uses are limited in a large facility in the middle of a neighborhood. McMichael said CCS would likely reach out to Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation to discuss turning the property into a park or community center.

After CCS closed the previous College Wood Elementary building, a special education co-op used the building for a few years, but eventually it was torn down. It is now the site of the district’s community gardens.

McMichael said a building will not be permitted to stay vacant for long.

“You do not want a vacated school in your community, let alone in your neighborhood,” he said. “Even if you keep the heat on and things like that it will fall apart, and then it becomes a liability and just ugly.”

Has the district considered closing any other campuses instead?

Some in the audience questioned why CCS isn’t considering closing Woodbrook Elementary, which has the highest number of empty seats.

“Woodbrook is newer than Orchard Park, I think 15 years or so, but I think it’s as much a matter of location as the building itself,” McMichael said.

He said that while Orchard Park’s geographic district is huge, some areas – such as commercial corridors – contain very few children.

When will a decision be made?

CCS will hold a public meeting for parents April 25 at Carmel Elementary followed by meetings open to the public at each middle school in May. McMichael said he won’t make a recommendation to the school board until he has a clear sense of what the community desires, so a decision date is not known.

Are these decisions going to be made before a new superintendent is in place?

The school board is aiming to identify its next superintendent in mid-May and have a start date of July 1. McMichael could make a recommendation to the school board before that, but he expects the new superintendent will at least by identified by the time a decision is made. The school board will have the final vote on the plan, not the superintendent.

Who will be forced to switch schools when redistricting happens?

Students heading into fifth grade will likely be allowed to finish their elementary careers at their current schools. All others – except for special circumstances – will likely be required to attend the school in their district.

Will elementary school closures or a new campus affect middle school districting?

McMichael said that middle school districts aren’t likely to change much or at all.

Has the City of Carmel or developers expressed interest in building mixed-use structures on the site of Carmel Elementary if it is closed?

“That’s never even been a thought I’m aware of at all,” McMichael said.

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