By CRISTINA JANNEY
Hays Middle School is out of room, Principal Tom Albers told the Hays school board during a tour Monday night.
HMS enrollment is at 686 students, the largest being the sixth-grade class of 248.
The gradually increasing enrollment has meant an already cramped lunch room is faced with even bigger challenges, the school is out of classroom space, has teachers on carts and class sizes are getting even larger.
“Every sixth-grade class is big,” Albers said. “We are talking 24 to 30 kids and some even bigger. We’re tight.”
Albers said he would love to have more electives for the students, but if the district added staff, he said more teachers are need for core courses to reduce class sizes. HMS is offering half-year English classes for seventh- and eight-graders, and they would like to make those full-year classes.
However, if HMS added staff, there is the question of where they would put the teachers. On carts, move in trailers? The options are limited.
The last renovations to the HMS were finished in 2014, which included HMS’ tornado shelter.
“People ask, ‘You put these new buildings in. How can you be short? How can you not have room?’ ” Albers said. “One of the reasons is our need for special education.”
Special education is taking up three rooms at HMS now, when at one time it took up just one. More paras and aides are required, the number of students in the program has increased and newer teaching methods require more space. One of the rooms that is being used as a special-ed classroom used to be the teachers’ lounge.
Albers is in his second year in his position at the middle school. He said several times during the tour he knew there were space issues at HMS, but until he actually saw it, he didn’t really understand how much HMS was doing in its existing spaces.
One of these areas is the cafeteria, which was not designed to handle as many students as it does today.
The cafeteria gets very noisy because of the number of students crammed into such a small space. HMS serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Students have 20-minute lunch periods, but really don’t have that long to eat once they get through the line, are seated, and must clean up and line up.
“It’s definitely complicated. It is like ant farm — kids everywhere,” said Shauna Zweifel, HMS assistant principal.
Albers said, “It does work, but it doesn’t work well.”
HMS is also serving 150 to 200 students breakfast.
One plan school officials have considered is expanding the lunchroom into an old boiler room adjacent to the existing cafeteria. It is currently being used for storage.
Although the gym is nice and is in good repair, it also has to hold a lot of kids.
With two physical education classes and a weights class going on in the upper deck simultaneously, there can be 110 students in the gym per class period.
Albers described three different teachers using intercoms and bullhorns to direct students all at they same time.
“You had this going on. You had this going on. You had that going on. I was like this is crazy. It was crazy that we would put this many kids in the gym at one time, but it is the only option we have,” Albers said.
The HMS track is in disrepair. Albers pointed out a large crack in the asphalt that has been repaired with a tar patch and is a tripping hazard. HMS can’t host meets at the school because of the condition of the track. HMS had 177 kids out last year for track.
The school has changed its drop-off procedures with the installation of a new secure entrance at the front of the school. During school hours, visitors buzz into the school and enter through the office. Students are required to enter in the morning through the west doors and check in through the gym.
Albers said the west door drop-off gives the school better control of the students’ movement through in the morning.
The school is working on plans to improve traffic control in the parking lot during drop off. Within the next month, the school plans to convert the parking lot to one-way traffic. Facilities also plans to paint a white area in the parking lot that will be a designated student drop-off zone.
HMS is still working with insurance to complete repairs to the west side of the school that was damaged during a wind and hail storm in August.