Rankin District 98 officials turned the first shovels of soil Tuesday to kick off the construction of a new addition to the school.

The add-on will feature six new classrooms, 28 new parking spaces and more parking lot lighting, additional restrooms, new gym lighting, and a 24-foot by 24-foot storage shed for track and field equipment. The district will also remove the wall between the speech room and the library. That will double the size of the tiny library, where there is not enough room to have classes come in for programs. One of the new classrooms will house speech classes, said Superintendent James Dunnan.

The expansion will be paid for with money from a $2.25 million referendum approved by voters in November 2016.

The school population has increased over the years, said Dunnan. In 2000, there were 199 students. The student body grew to 228 by 2016. Over the two previous years the average was 235 to 240 students. The district wants to keep its class sizes low, said Dunnan, which have a ratio of 18 to 1. Currently the district is using two mobile classrooms purchased in 2001 for its fifth-grade classes. There is a chance of 50 Spring Lake students in grades kindergarten through sixth coming to Rankin on a full-time basis, said Dunnan, but nothing is known for sure yet.

“Their board has had some discussions about that — how much longer they will continue to run their current set up,” said Dunnan. “Our board has discussed it and their board as well. It’s something that’s out there on the table. We needed some additional space right away and in the event that they would end up coming to Rankin and be provided an education here, we wanted to be prepared and ready for them. If you had all of a sudden 50 extra students on any given year, that’s a pretty sizable increase.”

Rankin currently teaches Spring Lake District 606 seventh-grade and eighth-grade students on a tuition basis.

Spring Lake Board President Mike Christianson referred comment to Superintendent Bill Reising. Reising did not return a call for comment by press time.

The district will keep the two mobile classrooms for possible future use. He said there is considerable expense to set up mobile classrooms. It’s best to leave them in place, said Dunnan.

The new addition will increase the footprint of the school from 53,811-square-feet to 61,880-square-feet. The school was built in 1955. The last addition to the school was in 2004 at a cost of $1.1 million. That addition added a new gym, a kitchen, six classrooms, a science lab, an art room and music room.

The gym lights there are dim and make it difficult for students playing basketball or volleyball.

“If you walk in our gym, our gym is wonderful,” said Dunnan. “The lights, they just don’t have the intensity you would want them to have.

“When you’re trying to play a basketball game or volleyball game and you’re seeing potential shadows, that’s not a good scenario.”

Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin