The North Bend Eagle

NBE reading class
When classroom space dried up at North Bend Elementary, this storage closet was called into duties. Pictures here, a reading class workds on lessons in the 8-by-18 foot room.

Looking for room to breathe

NBE pinning hopes on bond issue to ease overcrowding

by Nathan Arneal
Published 2/20/13

North Bend’s elementary school was built in 1958 at a time when at least six elementary schools served what is now the North Bend Central school district.

Now, 55 years later, one school hosts all the elementary students in the district, and even after a few additions, it is struggling to keep up with a growing district.

NBE hallway
Para educator Teri Ortmeier works on reading lessons with a student in the only space available, the hallway. Also cluttered in the hall are several items that used to be stored in closests now being used as classrooms.NBE closet office
School psychologist Beth Klootwyk has her office in an 8-by-6 foot former supply closet.NBE band class
The NBE band practices down the street from the school in the Masonic Lodge because there is no room in the school for band.

“We make it work,” NBE principal Caryn Ziettlow said, “ but we’d don’t have a lot space for instruction. We’ve got good computers. We have good technology. We just don’t have spaces to use them. People have a really hard time doing their job when they’re working in a closet.”

That’s not hyperbole.

Because NBE is so cramped for space, a former storage closet has been cleaned out and now the 8-by-18 foot space is used to teach reading classes.

Another smaller closet houses the office of school psychologist Beth Klootwyk, who conducts individual testing in the 6-by-8 room.

NBE rents a space at the former popcorn plant five blocks away to house the items that used to be stored in the former closets.

“Right now, this is the worst it’s ever been,” head of maintenance Rick Hobza said of the NBE space issues. “I think we have about 50 more students than the junior high and high school, and that’s a much bigger building. We’re not as efficient as we need to be.”

Hobza is a life-long resident of North Bend and a 1965 graduate of North Bend High School, which at that time stood right next to the current grade school. He began working on the NBC maintenance staff in 1976, and has worked in the elementary building since 1996.

The faculty and staff of North Bend Central are hoping voters give their stamp of approval on March 12 to a bond issue that would give the district the space and renovations it needs to properly serve its students.

“It’s going to give us space to breathe,” Ziettlow said. “Right now it just feels so compact. When you have this many people working together so closely, it’s hard. We like each other, but it would be nice to have some space.”

Several factors have contributed to the space crunch at NBE.

When the feeder grade schools were consolidated into a single elementary school in North Bend about a decade ago, the student population of the district was trending downward.

For more info on the bond issue, including floor plans and costs, visit

That trend has been reversed, thanks in part a growing number of students optioning in to NBC from outside the school district.

An addition to the elementary school in 2003 added four new classrooms, a library and a computer lab to the elementary school.

Since that time, NBE has grown by nearly 20 percent, going from 472 students in 2005 to 559 in 2012.

In 2006, the largest class in the grade school had 35 students. This year there are 56 students in fourth grade and 48 in first grade.

Not only has the student population increased, but NBE has added programs. An additional special education teacher has been added in recent years. This year a preschool program was added, taking up another classroom.

“They’re good programs,” Ziettlow said, “but they also take up space.”

As space became more precious, the school adapted. The computer lab that was added in 2003 has been converted into a classroom. The school currently does not have a computer lab.

With no room in the building for band class, students walk down the block to the Masonic Lodge for band. Ziettlow said this cuts down on the amount of time students actually spend playing their instruments.

“If they are really busting it they can get over there in seven minutes,” the principal said. “But seven minutes over there, seven minutes back. By the time they get there they have to get their instruments out. In the winter they have to take off their coats, their hats, their gloves. It was below freezing a few times walking over there.”

Besides the aforementioned closets being called into service, it is not uncommon to see tutoring sessions and reading practice taking place in the hallways of NBE.

“A lot of people say, ‘You’re doing all right,’” Hobza said, “but they see the building when it’s empty. I always say come see the building when it’s full, when there’s kids in it and they’re moving around. Then they’ll see how we’re doing.”

To solve the issue of overcrowding at grade school, the school board has proposed moving the sixth graders from the elementary building to the high school building and developing a middle school of sixth, seventh and eight graders.

If the bond issue passes, three new science rooms will be added to the high school, allowing the current science rooms to be converted into four classrooms, which would create space for the middle school.

As part of the proposed bond issue, the middle school would have its own entrance to the building, as well as its own locker room space so sixth and seventh graders would not have to share a locker room and showers with high school seniors.

Ziettlow said sixth graders would benefit from several programs that they don’t get much, if any, access to in the elementary building.

“They’re going to have an art teacher and a keyboard teacher,” she said. “They’ll be able to use different (computer) programs rather than just typing. I think curriculum wise, it will be really good.”

Meanwhile, moving the sixth graders out will open up some much needed space at the grade school.

Another part of the bond issue is a new multi-purpose room at the grade school. Between P.E. classes and serving the lunch line, the current multi-purpose room is booked solid.

The newly added preschool is federally mandated to provide its students 30 minutes of physical activity time every day. Right now, there is no time to fit that into the multi-purpose room’s schedule.

“It used to be that we could combine classes (for P.E.) and we’d have plenty of time during the day,” Ziettlow said, “but we’re so big now you can’t do that. We wouldn’t have space for them. Fifty-six kids in one P.E. class is pretty hard, even if they were in a big gym. Even when you have just 25 kids running around in there, it’s dangerous.”

When students do get P.E. time, there is a good chance they will spend half of it standing along the wall watching the other half participate. The small size of the room often does not allow all students to participate at the same time.

Because of the busy P.E. schedule, recess often takes place in the classroom or in the hallways during inclement weather.

“If it’s cold outside, the kids sit at recess,” Ziettlow said. “Like these last couple of weeks when it’s been freezing outside, they’ve just stayed inside and really haven’t gotten a lot of motion. If they don’t have P.E. during that day, then there’s pretty much no time they are going to get out and be physical.”

The addition of a new multi-purpose room would ease scheduling and allow the cafeteria to return to the current multi-purpose room, which is adjacent to the kitchen. Currently, students take their food trays from the kitchen and walk down the hall to eat in the commons area in front of the building.

The new multi-purpose room will also be large enough to accommodate all-school assemblies, which the current room struggles to do.

Hobza said if the bond issue passes, the North Bend Elementary school building will be good to go for decades into the future.

“When this building was built, it was very functional for 1958,” Hobza said. “Don’t get me wrong, this is a great building. But when you throw so many kids into a building of a certain size, it doesn’t function the way you want it to function.”

Hobza said if the improvements are not made now, they will be required in the future when the cost will undoubtably be much higher.

“I just think North Bend needs it,” he said. “It’s a case of ‘Pay me now or pay me later.’ If we’re going to survive as a school and a community, we need to address these problems. With interest rates down and construction companies hungry, it’s just an ideal time.”

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