A variety of factors reduced enrollment at South Bend, Indiana, public schools over the course of two decades, leading the school system to periodically close or consolidate facilities. But as costs began overwhelming the district, it became that a more strategic, holistic approach was necessary. HPM worked with the School Board to develop recommendations not just for physical infrastructure but for essentially all aspects of public education in South Bend – facilities, programs, even street configurations and communication strategies to balance a system that was simultaneously overwhelmed in some places and under enrolled in others.
In conjunction with the school district’s architect, HPM administered a survey to stakeholders in the area and hosted four in-person and four virtual meetings to solicit as much candid feedback as possible from the people who would be impacted by the changes. Ultimately, HPM presented a plan consolidate the school district from four high schools to three, renovating another school to support a career center and a medical magnet program, and realign feeder schools, among other recommendations, to help the board serve its community with minimal disruption in a time of upheaval. In April of 2023, the South Bend School Board voted to accept the recommendations as provided by HPM.
MAINTAINING A STRONG COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
It was actually the school district’s architect who initially reached out to HPM, recognizing the need for a skill not always prioritized in the tool bag of every construction project: diplomacy. HPM’s experience and expertise were needed to manage both the logistics and the local politics of the school consolidation – not just to present the best recommendations but to frame them in a way the public would understand, helping the public see the value in what was being proposed, even in an otherwise contentious environment. Surveys, town hall meetings, personal conversations, and clearly laid-out recommendations meant that in addition to expert planning, HPM was able to present the school board with stakeholders who knew their voices had been heard and knew any future steps would be backed by data and the best interest of the community.