Schools at the Heart of Communities: Ensworth Elementary School, Bend

Closer to "home"

Ensworth Elementary, Bend SD

Opened 2004

  • 53% population growth - between 1995 and 2005.
  • Land is expensive - up to $150,000 an acre.
  • Busing costs are rising.
  • Reduce building 'footprint' to fit smaller lot.
  • Site close to neighborhood to save on transportation costs.

Student transportation takes a $143 million bite out of the Oregon Department of Education’s annual budget. It takes another bite out of local school district budgets when the districts chip in their 30 percent of the cost of student transportation.

In Bend, whose population grew 53 percent between 1995 and 2005, the cost of land for school buildings is increasing, too, from $42,000 to $150,000 an acre in just a few years. To find land at affordable prices, school districts have for years felt pressured to go outside local urban growth boundaries to build new schools. But such schools certainly cannot be described as the heart of their communities.

A project that exemplifies reversing the sprawl trend is Ensworth Elementary School in northeast Bend, part of the Bend-LaPine School District that has 24 schools and about 14,700 students.

Ensworth Elementary’s location was influenced by an Oregon Transportation and Growth Management program study conducted by David Evans & Associates for the district in 1997.

The study found that by locating schools in neighborhoods, as opposed to placing them on remote sites accessible only by motor vehicle, the school district could save as much as 32 percent annually on student transportation costs. Influenced by this and other study findings, the district developed a new template, the in-fill prototype, for community-based elementary schools on smaller sites.

Ensworth, which opened in 2004, differs from many new schools in two important ways.

First, it occupies a much smaller site -- only about nine acres instead of the 15 acres that a school of this size would normally consume. This means the school can fit gracefully into a settled neighborhood and be close enough to homes so students can walk to school and to other local destinations. Whereas only about 13 percent of students nationwide walk or bike to school, almost all of Ensworth’s students could walk or bike, and the majority of them do. Students typically walk to and from school in groups, getting physical exercise in the process.

Second, Ensworth consumes less land because it is two levels. On the upper floor, special fire exits meet code requirements. A building separated by a covered walkway from the main structure doubles as a cafeteria and gym for students and as a community center for the neighborhood. The separate entrance addresses security issues, strengthening Ensworth’s ability to function as a community gathering place.

And the school’s proximity to the neighborhood also allows for greater use of school playgrounds after school hours.

The intimate relationship between Ensworth and the community it serves is seen as a plus by educators.

Virginia Nelson, a kindergarten teacher at Ensworth, expressed her feelings about the new school:

“We’re located in the heart of the neighborhood. The children don’t have to board a bus and go someplace far away. And since the school is so close to the neighborhood it serves, we see the students’ parents more often. Here we have daily contacts with many parents, who can easily swing by. The neighborhood feels a greater sense of ownership toward the school. You see it in the way people take care of the school.”

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