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ALPINE LOSING IN ITS BATTLE OF THE BULGE

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Teachers at American Fork High School have already scheduled 17 chemistry classes, from beginning to advanced levels, for the 1994-95 school year. The problem is, they only have room for 16 such classes.

"We're just going to have to have one class rotating rooms if it comes to that," said principal Vern Henshaw. "We just don't have enough space in the chemistry labs for all these classes."Until this spring, American Fork High didn't have enough room for other classes, either. Two months ago, construction crews added eight portable units brought in from American Fork Jr. High, which has had its crowding eased somewhat with the opening of Mountain Ridge Jr. High in Highland. The school has 25 portable classrooms that house about 600 students - nearly one-third of the 2,000-member student body.

"Until we got this last bunch of portables, we had six teachers without a home room," Henshaw said. "They rotated around from class to class, just like the kids."

American Fork High was built in 1959 to house 800 to 1,000 students. Thirty-five years later, the school houses twice that number. The problem isn't unique in the district.

Mountain View High in Orem has 20 portable classrooms, and Pleasant Grove High has 15. Among the elementary schools, Shelley in American Fork has 16, and Northridge in northeast Orem has 18. Six other elementary schools have at least 12 "satellites," as they're also known.

There are 300 portable classroom units in the district, and approximately 20 percent of the student population, 9,200 of nearly 46,000, is taught in portable classroom units. Many of the schools, including the three highs schools, are overcrowded even with the portables.

"This isn't any kind of solution - just adding on and adding on and adding on," Henshaw said. "If we could honestly say that there wasn't going to be any more growth from this moment on, we might be able to make this work. But let's face it, that's not going to happen - we're projected to grow by 2,350 students over the next three years."

Alpine School District leaders evidently agree. Members of the Alpine School Board are proposing an $88 property tax increase per household to build as many as two new high schools and six elementary schools over the next three years.

A general obligation bond and accompanying tax increase passed in 1992 helped build Mountain Ridge Jr. High in Highland and Oak Canyon Jr. High in Lindon. Both schools opened this year, and consequently, only one junior high, Lake Ridge in Orem, has 10 portable classrooms.

"We went along to addressing the problem on the junior high level with the construction of the two new junior highs," Alpine Superintendent Steven Baugh said.

According to Baugh, the district has now reached the point where construction alone will not solve the overcrowding problem.

"We'll have to continue to supplement the growth with additional buildings and portable classrooms," Baugh said. "The additional building won't keep us out of difficulties, but at least we won't be always in the absolute disaster zone."

The superintendent said that members of the school board discussed alternative plans to ease the crowding, including year-round schools on the secondary level, holding double sessions at schools, extending class hours in schools from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and/or adding more portable units.

"None of these were satisfactory (to the school board)," Baugh said. "Putting more classes on doesn't address the problem of crowding in those portable classrooms or the crowding in the hallways and lunch rooms. Year-round school has never worked for any high school in the country."

Also, 14 schools are already on extended-day or year-round school to save space.

"The growth has come in areas where extended-day or year-round school can't help meet those needs," Baugh said. "We've got to build these schools. I don't think we want our high schools with populations of 3,000 and the elementaries at 1,200."