AAPS Schools Nearing Capacity

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education study session (November 18, 2015): W. Scott Westerman Preschool and Family Center

The board is holding a study session this evening, focusing on the AAPS Facilities Utilization/Capacity Study.

Study sessions allow the trustees to explore a topic more in depth than is usually allowed for at a regular meeting. There will be no voting at tonight’s meeting.

5:36 PM All trustees, excepting President Deb Mexicotte, are present. Vice-President Christine Stead says they are waiting for Mexicotte, who should arrive shortly.

5:45 PM Board President Deb Mexicotte arrives.

5:47 PM STUDY SESSION CALLED TO ORDER: The single discussion item on the agenda is the AAPS Facilities Utilization/Capacity Study. There are no changes to the agenda.


DISCUSSION ITEM: AAPS Facilities Utilization/Capacity Study

Superintendent Jeanice Swift: this report is many reports in the making. Planning committee offered ideas, went back to do more work with Plante/Moran. The report is being

District is responsible for 17K students. Trick for trustees on governing boards is how to organize so many students through a district. When looking at numbers, massive: 3.4M square feet.

Swift looks back at summer of 2013 when the board had a significant discussion on adjusting boundaries, close buildings  – ultimately all about the budget. Looking at declining enrollment and less money. At that time, three buildings below 40% utilization: A2 Tech, Northside, and Clemente. During the Listen and Learn Tour, heard from constituents: would like programming updated, and would like innovative programming: STEAM, languages, IB. Also like neighborhood schools. Both/and of liking choice in programming, and like neighborhood school.

The board, at that time, decided to enhance programming. Since 2013, closed and sold Roberto Clemente, opened Pathways to Success program in old A2Tech building. Reconstituted Northside to A2 STEAM @ Northside. All three levels have increased in enrollment. Added programs: preschools at Allen, Thurston, and Westerman Preschool and Family Center; increased Young 5s program; STEAM programs; added Project Lead the Way to all middle schools; Project Lead the Way to all elementary schools; International Baccalaureate programs at Mitchell, Scarlett, and Huron; increase of K-8 programs; secondary enhancements of daily schedule refinement, programming, and elective programs; increase in world languages programming.

Ultimately, all of these changes, says Swift, has resulted in an increase of around 650 students into the district.

It is a science and art: science of how to place students in buildings, and art of programming to attract people to the district.

Families have choices. Fundamental question of what is the right way to situate kids. Because of funding pressure, using a metric of 90% capacity for buildings. Tension of this work: balance quality of neighborhood schools and to provide quality, attractive programming. Swift says she knows capacity is a fluid number, impacted by many different things. 2015 report will provide a base point, with some of those metrics needing to be refined. Swift’s intention that they will review capacity in the fall of each year.

Notice that recommendations are pretty clear around need for additional early childhood and preschool, concern for capacity in the northeast and the southeast where more development is going in.

Stead: great data point in time. Says that she is excited to use the data in the report.

Lasinski: from treasurer’s capacity: important to note that they don’t want 100% utilization because there needs to be room for flexibility. Even a goal of 90% utilization stretches them a little, maybe not giving the district as much space to try new programs.

Swift: cautions that most of the district’s innovations are in year one and in year two. Don’t be too alarmed by a number that goes above 100%

Thomas: capacity is one part of the equation. Second part of equation: what is the need or demand on AAPS. Gets at population changes, number of students moving from charter schools into AAPS, schools of choice. Ann Arbor has not been affected in the same way as other area public school districts.

Stead: add housing and economic development into that. There are several housing developments in the works. The economic growth of the city is also a significant factor.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot: thanks Swift for saying that she wants to update the report each fall.


Two Plante/Moran representatives share their findings: Paul Wills – partner in charge of K-12 practice.

Mexicotte reminds the trustees that they should only ask clarifying questions, that they should not get “too deep in the weeds.”

Engagement Overview: 

The district engaged CRESA to conduct faculty tours for each of the 32 school facilities.

  • summarizing existing utilization
  • summarizing existing classroom configurations
  • identifying potential building capacity for program expansion or other uses.

District Goals and Focus:

  • neighborhood schools
  • district wants to understand current trends and future development in order to create plans for sustainability of the district
  • school boundaries are fluid, and families choose within district.
  • equitable access for all students to innovative programs is key for the long-term and needs to fit with the capacity of each building


Live Birth rate for Washtenaw – while on the decline, AAPS has bucked that trend and had increasing student enrollment. According to the 2008-12 American Community Survey, there were approximately 19,854 K-12 students within the AAPS boundary. Of the 19,854 K-12 students with the AAPS boundary, 16,395 K-12 students attend public schools (charter and AAPS) – approximately 82%. Approximately 13% of students are either homeschooled or attend private schools.

Thomas asks where the missing 5% of students are. Charter school numbers are not easy to get, says Mexicotte.

Pre-K programming: 423 AAPS students compare to the 2,262 eligible Pre-K students within the AAPS boundary – which creates an opportunity for AAPS. Mexicotte says there is such a “robust” preschool program in Ann Arbor, which means that there has been less need for preschool programming coming from the district.

Stead says they did a lengthy study on preschool several years ago: decided on a blended approach of both paid tuition and need based preschool programming.

Housing Trends: 

Based on information from construction: approximately 2,700 new housing units within the next five years. Assumes 0.41 kids per housing unit.

Utilization Process: 

PMC conducted site review of over 3M square feet of educational space to look at space utilization.

Elementary Schools

Average year built of elementary school: 1954. One million square feet at the elementary level. Enrollment: 6,937 students as of October count.

Lightfoot wants to know if there’s a way to extrapolate for trends of special needs students. Swift says Landefeld’s numbers show as enrollment increases, stays consistent at 10-12%.

Stead asks if the utilization could be calculated at both 100% and 90%, so the community could easily see which schools are above optimal utilization. Lasinski points out that while Wines Elementary is currently at 123% utilization, it means only 1.5 students more per classroom.

Average utilization for the elem buildings in 96%.

Elem School Recommendations: 

  • Due to high utilization, the district should study whether additions at King, Logan, and Thurston may need to balance the utilization below 100%.
  • Allen, Angell, Bach, Dicken, Haisley, Lawton and Wines should be examined for expansion or enrollment alignment through program offerings at other buildings
  • Building with high utilization but lower planned development should be monitored over time to determine if any changes are needed.

Swift reminds the board that the young 5s and K enrollment has increased over the past couple years. If those numbers hold, that growth will affect enrollment at the middle and high schools in the next five years or so.

Middle School Level

89% of middle school building is being utilized. Lightfoot points out that the district needs more population growth at the southeast side, which that growth is anticipated there based on construction projects. Swift reminds the trustees that Scarlett has been the school with the greatest amount of growth for the past several years. It is projected that the full ramp up of IB in the future will also bring more students into that area.

Middle School recommendations

  • continue implementation of specialized programming at MS level.

High School Level

181 gen ed classrooms at comprehensive high schools: capacity of roughly 540 students at the high school level. 90% utilization. Mexicotte notes that this data refutes the small number of community members who believe that the high schools are empty. Huron and Skyline are currently 85% utilized and have the greatest capacity for additional students. 235 AAPS students attend consortium programs (and are not included in the buildings for capacity purposes).


  • continue to offer programming options which allow students to select the program that best meets their needs
  • increase dedicated space within each school

K-8 Schools and Pre-K

STEAM at 119% utilization after only being open a short amount of time. Open school program at 100% utilization – perhaps another opportunity for the community program considerations

Look at Pre-K programming to capture more of the Pre-K aged children throughout the district.


  • Construction is likely needed in the north east section of the district based on current utilization and expected development
  • Capacity is needed in the southern area of the district – and it exists in the current facilities
    • this creates an opportunity to address capacity through program offerings
  • Significant opportunities exist to expand Pre-K programming (which requires capacity).

To Monitor for the Future:

  • The district should establish a baseline for support classrooms
  • The district should revisit capacity figures on a regular basis
  • If the district were to consider a bond issue in the future – qualified bonds required that utilization percentages equal at least 85% for each building.
  • The district should consider whether a target utilization percentage should be part of district policy
  • Over time, grade configuration at the building level can be revisited, if necessary to address capacity.

General Facility Observations: 

Average age of buildings: 61 for elementary, 57 years for middle, and 37 years for high schools.

Plante Moran noted that the district has done a “decent job of keeping up facilities.” The facility study performed in earlier years should be updated to fully understand the facility upgrade needs at each location.


Thomas asks about projections for construction –

Lasinski approaches the increases projected for Angell, Bach, and Burns Park with some skepticism, given that it is student apartments that are being built. Mexicotte says that some of the development in the south east is probably underprojected, given that it is large housing developments.

Thomas: what is noteworthy is that there was no recommendations to close elementary schools based on capacity. There is nothing in the report that suggests the need for redistricting in order to realign things.

The district’s strategy so far is to have fluid school boundaries and to improve programming, Stead notes, to allow families to choose the school which best fits them within the district. She loves the report and thanked the Plante Moran representatives.

Lightfoot says that they also need to address racial distribution in the district, wonders if choice has been a positive aspect for it.

Since boundaries are not hard and fast bits of ground, Mexicotte says, there are some areas they might consider redistricting to address some long-standing concerns regarding race. Choice has helped the district to increase enrollment, but maybe there are some choices to back away from.

Swift thanks the Plante Moran team for their work and appreciates that the district now has a baseline.

Mexicotte asks about the portables at Wines, noting that they had made a commitment to get rid of all of the district’s portables. It would not be an avenue Mexicotte would like to use to expand.

Swift asks if there is direction the board would like to suggest or provide about facility plans. Borrowing a phrase from Lightfoot, Stead says that there needs to be a “marrying up” of facilities reports with programming. Will need to eventually look at capacity: expansion, programs, not duct-taping with portables.

Trustee Susan Baskett: would like to get a better idea if “super-pair” of Bryant-Pattengill is still needed.

Lasinski: would like to see what the bubbles look like, given decreasing birth rate. Would like more of the total picture. Need to firm up the programs the district offers to have a true picture of district growth and capacity.

Lightfoot: wants to look more at what financial challenges faced by districts around AAPS. Wants to perfect and sustain programs that work well within the district.

Stead: laughs and says she couldn’t imagine this conversation two years ago. She doesn’t want to rest on their laurels. She has the same sense of urgency she had two years ago to make AAPS the best district around. They haven’t won, they haven’t proven to the legislature that public education is worth it. There is still a long way to go and they need to do some long range financial planning. Still on a precipice.

Mexicotte says she’s “bemused” by the question of what’s the direction they should give. Because their work is always “run the district.” The facilities report is part of the great work done to give them better information to run the district.


Nothing added.

8:12 PM Meeting adjourned

AnnArbivore is sustained solely through reader support. Please subscribe through Patreon to keep this coverage alive. If you value the citizen journalism provided by AnnArbivore, support us and encourage others to do so, as well. Thank you. 


Leave a Reply