Gillette officials expect the city's population to keep growing significantly over the coming decades thanks to the coal industry. That means local schools must add more space to accommodate higher enrollment.
"We've been experiencing a graduating class that is smaller than incoming kindergartners," said Campbell County School District #1 Associate Superintendent Alex Ayers.
"We are carrying 971 students. We have a capacity of about 1,021," said Sage Valley Junior High School Principal Terry Quinn.
The district opened Buffalo Ridge Elementary in the fall to handle overcrowding at that level, but Quinn knows once those kids get older the junior high schools will need more space to handle all the seventh through ninth graders.
"We're looking at a registration of kindergartners of nearly 900 kids. The 9th grade right now is carrying 680, said Quinn.
The district and the state are discussing how to address overcrowding and the solution will likely include shifting some grades.
"We've talked about potentially moving the ninth grade up into the high school system, only having seventh and eighth graders at Sage and Twin [spruce junior high school], in which case there would be plenty of capacity through 2020," said Ayers.
Fortunately the high school's south campus, which only houses tenth graders, provides some flexibility.
"It has the potential to be renovated to be a comprehensive 9-12 high school or another 10-12 high school. It has the potential to be renovated to be a junior high or a middle school," said Ayers.
District officials say they need a finalized plan within two years. But they still find the silver lining in trying to solve this difficult problem.
"This is a great opportunity for us. I'd much rather talk about what to do with more kids coming to school than less kids coming to school," said Quinn.
District administrators say they'll also have to build more elementary facilities in the near future and the state will pay for most of the construction costs on any new buildings or expansions.