STUTTGART, Germany — Work is set to begin on new temporary classrooms at Patch High School, bringing much-needed relief to a crowded facility that is expected to get even more students next year.

With a 33 percent enrollment increase in Stuttgart area schools during the past two years, and more U.S. Africa Command staff members on the way, garrison and school district officials have wrestled to come up with ways to create space.

"Each school year presents new challenges," said Col. Richard Pastore, commander of the U.S. Army Garrison at Stuttgart. "As a command, we’ve had to work hard on these problems."

The rising student population and limited space have at times forced officials to ponder controversial solutions. Under one proposal, fifth-grade students at Patch Elementary would have been sent to Robinson Elementary on the north side of Stuttgart for the 2009-2010 school year.

Patch High, which is next to Patch Elementary, would have used some of its space. But parents complained at public forums about the long bus rides the displaced fifth-graders would have had to take.

At a February U.S. European Command town hall meeting, the issue was raised and a solution was found. Gen. John Craddock, EUCOM commander, said he would tap into funds at his disposal to subsidize the temporary classrooms.

On Monday, EUCOM officials took part in a ceremonial groundbreaking to mark the start of construction.

"This is a temporary fix and it was a fix brought about by you, the parents," said EUCOM deputy commander Vice Adm. Richard Gallagher during the ceremony outside the high school.

The temporary classrooms will cost about $250,000 in total and are expected to help carry the school through the next couple of years. The permanent solution will arrive in 2011 in the form of a new high school at Panzer Kaserne.

Maj. Gen. Ken Keen, EUCOM chief of staff, said keeping Patch fifth-graders at the same school next year was worth the cost of adding space at the high school. "It’s a small investment that will make a big difference for the students," Keen said.

Frank Roehl, superintendent of the Heidelberg District, said the EUCOM funding helped school and garrison officials avoid having to make a decision that would inevitably upset at least part of the community.

"We’re very thankful," Roehl said.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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