Facility Committee Chairman George Clemens began the meeting with a review of the proposal as it stands now. It was emphasized that the ideas being developed are not a formal plan yet and are subject to change as they evolve.
"I keep hearing it referred to as a plan and that's a little misleading," said Sharon Mills, a member of the committee's Public Relations Subcommittee.
While it does not have unanimous approval of the committee, it is the general consensus Bueker Middle School should be renovated in whatever way is necessary to continue its use for an additional 20 years. In addition, a new elementary school for three grades should be built and any of the existing elementary buildings - Benton, Southeast, Eastwood and Northwest - still used should be remodeled and air conditioned.
Furthermore, the proposal being developed seeks to have two science labs added at Marshall High School and air-conditioning installed at the MHS industrial arts building. Also part of the idea is moving the Saline County High School, an alternative high school serving not only Marshall but the county's three other K-12 districts, into one of the existing elementary buildings and moving fifth grade classes out of Bueker Middle School.
Following the review, the meeting became an informal question and answer session in which members of the board and committee shared ideas and expressed opinions about the project.
Committee member Walter Keith discussed some rough estimates he had made concerning the project as outlined by Clemens. The new building was estimated to cost $7 million, with renovations to BMS placed at $2 million. Renovations to the elementary schools ranged from a low of $5,000 at Northwest Elementary School to a high of $52,000 at Benton Elementary. With the addition of the labs and the air-conditioning installation at the high school, the entire project was estimated at about $9.5 million.
Board of Education President Ed Kays asked what alignment the committee favored for the new elementary building. Clemens explained there were two camps within the committee, with one favoring a building for kindergarten through second grade and the other preferring third through fifth grade. He said the majority seemed to favor the latter option.
It was reasoned the older elementary students would benefit most from the new building because of their increased need for space and technology. Others argued that parents would be more likely to support funding for an upper elementary school if their children are currently enrolled in a new lower elementary building.
The phrase "neighborhood schools" was also kicked around during the meeting. Committee member Clay Mead said the term had become so confusing to people that a new nomenclature should be adopted when discussing plans.
By any name, the idea of separating grade-level instructors was not a popular one. Keith cited a survey he had conducted that received 22 negative comments about the idea compared to only 10 positive comments. When asked, 22 elementary teachers said they disliked the idea, eight favored it and 11 expressed no opinion either way.
Kay Wise, the Benton grade-level chairwoman, said her building is 100 percent against the idea of separating teachers who teach the same grade level into different buildings. She said the teachers have worked hard to create a partnership in their teaching. The teachers share resources and skills, which would be cut into fourths or thirds in multi-grade buildings.
Wise also said Marshall has mobile students who might live in three or four houses during a school year. These students would be moved from school to school in a geographically divided district. In addition, any division would create socioeconomic disparity between the schools.
The school board members expressed their thanks to the committee for all the work it had done to date and indicated they were pleased with the direction being taken. Committee members asked the board to consider the ideas presented and forward any comments to committee officers in the coming weeks.
Those comments will be incorporated into the committee's discussion as it moves forward with refining its ideas into a recommendation which will be presented to the board later this year.