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Harrisburg Plans For Even More Growth

August 23, 2012, 10:03 PM by Nicole Winters

Harrisburg Plans For Even More Growth
HARRISBURG, SD -

Harrisburg students are back into the school swing and once again this year it’s seeing a large spike in students.

Two new buildings are in the process of being built, but until they open next school year, it's going to be a tight fit.

At Harrisburg's Explorer Elementary School just getting through the parking lot takes patience and time. It's not just because it's the first day of class, but because the school is overflowing with students.

"Even the traffic coming in you can tell, there's just a ton more people here," parent Jeff Post said.

"It’s been interesting to see the school grow, it never used to be this big, and now it's quite a large school," parent Nicole Field said.

Parents like Post and Field both have had children in the school for the past five years. When they first started there was a much different feel.

"Lots more kids, the building wasn't near as full when she first started," Field said.

"There were empty rooms and places to put storage, we didn't use on entire wing," third grade teacher Jodi Ponwith said.

Ponwith has been at Explorer since it opened eight years ago. She's watched the population grow bigger and bigger, until even modular units had to be added to accommodate the growth. Her class size in that time has jumped from 20 to 25. But, the challenges really come at other times of the day.

"There's got to be logical things that have to happen like lunch times and recess times and playground equipment that's available, books, textbooks; it's logistically really hard," Ponwith said.

It's a space problem also felt at Harrisburg Middle School, where it’s bursting at its seams.

But, really, it's the whole district seeing a population boom.

"We’ve got two different types of growth; we have the growth when Sioux Falls moves south. Most of that is in the Harrisburg School District and the town of Harrisburg, which keeps continuing to grow. When that grows, we also see growth," Superintendent Jim Holbeck said.

Houses can be seen going up all over the area bringing hundreds of new families into the schools.

Post, who moved in nine years ago, has watched neighborhoods pop up all around him.

"We like it because it was kind of out of town and we lived by a cornfield and that's not the case anymore," Post said.

Last year, the district had 300 new students, this year, unofficial numbers show a growth of 330 totaling about 3,030 students. That's double the number of students from five years ago.

To accommodate the rapid growth, two new buildings are going up, a new elementary school and a new middle school. The district asked voters last November to pass a $38 million bond to help alleviate some of the pressure.

"When the kids are coming we have to have room for them. Our voters have been just great about understanding that," Holbeck said.

Those two schools set to open next fall will most likely not be the last. Holbeck says because the district grows about the size of an elementary school every other year, he's already looking to the future.

"We will be looking at another site. We'll be looking at another place probably in the southern part of Sioux Falls what will be our number six elementary school," Holbeck said.

"You can't even fathom how fast this district is growing, but it's just such a great school district, I guess everybody wants to be here," Ponwith said.

While the rapid growth does present some obstacles neither the district nor parents see it as a bad thing.

"It’s a little bit crowded, but it's still manageable. Still a small feel," Post said.

"We don't call it a challenge, we call it an opportunity and the opportunities are abound in this district," Holbeck said.

In the last five years, the district has also doubled the number of employees to about 400.

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