Are there benefits of a school complex? I was skeptical when our local school systems went to a one building school complex rather than four separate school buildings, but as a parent of children of varying ages, I now see there are distinct advantages to having a one building school.
Benefits of a School Complex
What is a school complex? A school complex is one building for a school system that houses many grades. In the case of our school district, this is all the grades K-12. Different sections of the building are often set aside for each grade grouping, such as elementary, middle school and high school. The grade groupings can share common areas to save on school funding.
What Caused Our School District to Look into the Benefits of a School Complex?
There were four separate schools spread out miles apart across the school district, at least one of which needed some extensive work. Instead of putting a lot of money into one building when the others would soon need repairs as well, it was decided to put the money into creating a one building school to house all the grades.
According to the school’s Demographics1 webpage, our district serves students in a 169 square mile area. There was one school building for each grade grouping: elementary (K-3), middle school (3-6), junior high (7-8) and high school (9-12), with the middle school and junior high school being on opposite ends of the school district.
Basic Description of the School Complex
The school complex is located on 40 acres and has a modern design. Although the complex has all school grades in one building, there are distinct sections for the elementary, middle and high schools. There are shared common areas, such as the Cafetorium (combination cafeteria and auditorium), library, gymnasium and nurse’s station.
When the school complex first opened, it was called a “compound”. In addition, the school is always locked for the safety of the students. Visitors have to press a buzzer at the school grade section they would like to visit and be let in by staff. Visitors also must sign in at the office near the door for the grade section they are visiting. Many parents and I used to joke that it sounded more like a prison than a school.
Cost Benefits of Having a School Complex
One benefit of having a one building school is cost. These cost savings are especially important for a rural school district such as ours with limited school funding. Instead of having to spread the money out to separate schools, school funding can be better shared for the benefit of all students.
There is now only one building to maintain, heat and cool. Teachers who specialize, such as music teachers, don’t have to travel between schools to teach different grade groupings. Buses have one centralized drop off and pick up point. Money is saved on staff for the common areas, such as cafeteria workers and librarians.
Safety Benefits of a School Complex
Having all school grades in one building keeps students in the district centralized for safety. During emergency situations, only one building needs to be monitored to keep the kids safe. There is also a benefit for safety within the building itself. If there is a problem in one school section, additional staff can be sent from other sections to help immediately.
With the doors being locked to the school complex, students cannot leave to skip class without being caught when they try to re-enter the school. This safety feature helps teachers keep better track of the students in their care.
Student and Parent Benefits of a School Complex
Students have an easier transition from elementary school to middle school to high school. There are not the fears related to going to a “new school” as they already know the layout of the building due to the shared common areas. They will be going to school with mostly the same students and friends they made for their whole school career.
Parents with children of different ages benefit by having all school grades in one building. No longer do they have to go to different buildings to pick up their kids after school related activities such as sports and music. There is also no need to travel between buildings for special programs and parent-teacher conferences.
New Benefits with the School Complex
There is also an automated “Alert Now” system that notifies parents by phone of school delays, closings and early dismissals. Having a one building school with shared busing makes this system very successful.
Parents had previously worried that younger kids could get “bullied” by older kids by having all grades in one building, but that hasn’t been an issue. Instead, students who live spread out over many miles enjoy the chance to get together to see friends they may not otherwise get to see due to travel limitations or being in different grades.
Benefits That Another School District Had with a School Complex
Other school districts have benefited from a one building school. The school district in Walden, Vermont, moved from separate schools to a combined K-8 school complex. You can read about their district’s positive experience and more at the Vermont Community Works On-Line’s webpage titled K-8Exemplars2.
Our Family has Benefited from a School Complex
I have especially enjoyed being able to pick up the kids at one location for extracurricular activities. If more than one of my kids forgets to bring something to school, I only have to travel to one place to drop off their needed items. I can pick them up all together for combined doctor and dental appointments as well.
Our school complex has been a positive change for our rural school district and community. I no longer joke that the school complex is more like a prison compound than an educational facility. School funds are better spent, the kids are safer, and teachers, parents and students can have the convenience of having a one building school.
Personal Experience and Knowledge
1) Alexander Local School District; Demographics; Alexander Local School District
2) Community Works On-Line; K-8 Exemplars; Vermont Community Works