Littleton Public Schools will consolidate East and Moody elementary schools into a new building on the Moody Elementary campus, the school board decided unanimously on March 30.
The decision means East Elementary, near Broadway and Orchard Road, will close in coming years, with plans to open the new school building at Moody, at Windermere Street and Weaver Avenue, by fall 2023.
The move comes as Littleton Public Schools looks at a wave of elementary and preschool consolidations in the face of a years-long slide in enrollment numbers, which district officials say is driven by high housing prices placing Littleton out of reach of young families.
Both Moody and East elementaries have fallen below 300 students in recent years, which district officials say makes it hard to provide comprehensive programming and places a strain on staffing resources.
School board members said they based their decision in part on conversations with Littleton city officials, who told the district they foresee the neighborhood around East developed with more high-density housing in coming decades.
Despite the name, board president Jack Reutzel said so-called “multifamily” development tends not to result in more students.
“The way we look at it, the type of housing they’re talking about building is smaller units — housing to get people out of single-family housing but who want to stay in the Littleton area,” Reutzel said. “There are empty nesters sitting on single-family homes who want to stay where they raised their kids, but they don’t have a place to downsize to. Hopefully in coming years they can move into smaller apartments, and free up some of those home for families.”
There’s also no indication new development near East would be affordable, as the city lacks any statutory authority to mandate developers offer new homes at below-market rate.
Littleton’s median single-family home price in February sat just under $600,000, according to the Denver Metro Association of Realtors, a nearly 300% increase from the price in 1999. The median townhouse/condo price sat at $321,000 in February, up $100,000 in the past five years.
City officials told the district they don’t foresee the neighborhood around Moody, primarily composed of single-family homes, as targeted for redevelopment.
Many parents had appealed to the board in recent months to keep East open, saying it’s an important resource for immigrant and low-income families in north Littleton.
Roughly two-thirds of East’s students are on the federal free or reduced lunch program, the second-highest total in the district after nearby Field Elementary. In comparison, only about a quarter of Moody students are on free or reduced lunch.
At community meetings in March, parents told district officials they were concerned that East families who live within walking distance of the school would find it harder to participate in extracurricular activities or pick up sick children from school.
At the March 30 board meeting, board members said they hope to commit transportation funding to the East community, possibly by running a bus route directly from the East campus to Moody, and want to come up with other transportation arrangements for students who wish to participate in after-school clubs.
Board members also said they would love to see East converted into a community center that could host events, clubs, conferences or other uses.
Reutzel said he would love to see that too, though the district can’t foot the bill alone.
“We’re delivering content with our money,” Reutzel said. “The funding would have to come from others.”
The district has used mothballed schools for community endeavors in the past. Ames Elementary, shuttered during the Great Recession, played host to Nourish Meals on Wheels until 2019.
East is also the heart of the district’s English language learning program, though board member Robert Reichardt said that arrangement has created a bit of its own inequity.
“It’s segregated (English language learners) into one neighborhood and one school,” Reichardt said. “We want to move lanugage development out to other schools. What makes East unique isn’t planned to continue, regardless of where we build the new school.”
The new school could cost between $35 million and $55 million, and would be built with a capacity of up to 650 students, but would likely open with 500 to 550 students. The district does not anticipate any layoffs associated with the merger, Superintendent Brian Ewert said.
Accomplishing the merger of East and Moody will require a dizzying reshuffling of students between other elementary schools also slated for consolidation in coming years.
Current plans from the district’s Long Range Planning Committee — which have not yet been approved by the school board — call for students at Twain Elementary, at Franklin Street and Easter Avenue, to consolidate with an existing elementary school beginning in fall 2022.
Moody students would then occupy Twain, three miles from their current school, for the 2022-2023 school year while their new school is built.
Once Moody students returned to their newly-built home campus, Twain would be repurposed according to district needs. The plans also call for Peabody Elementary, at Caley Avenue and Steele Street, to consolidate into an existing elementary school starting in fall 2022.
Reichardt said regardless of the headaches the merger causes in the short term, overall it’s a positive move.
“This is absolutely a moment of celebration,” Reichardt said. “The children at East and Moody will be better off in four years with a new school than they are now.”