When it comes to improving Marshall school district facilities, the question for the Board of Education is not whether but when.
No current member of the board, nor any candidate in recent elections, has challenged the need for new classroom facilities.
But some district voters still have questions about the need.
For one thing, Marshall's population has been fairly stable for a number of years, even retreating a bit from the 12,433 recorded in the 2000 census, according to one data source. If that's the case, why are elementary schools over capacity? Each elementary school currently holds classes in at least one mobile classroom parked adjacent to the building.
But education has changed quite a bit in the past decade or so, he said.
What has increased is special needs classrooms, he said, special education, speech therapy, occupation therapy, physical therapy and Title 1 math and reading services.
"Those special services take the rooms from traditional classroom space," he said. "Those students need a small learning space to work in small groups. We don't have the small learning space."
Because the district's four elementary buildings were constructed long before the proliferation of federally funded special service programs, they weren't designed to accommodate the needs of students in those programs, he said.
Full-day kindergarten has been around for some time, he said, but kindergarten classes were half-day only when three of the four elementary schools were built in the 1920s.
The move to full-day kindergarten doubled the need for classroom space.
Noah and school board President Larry Godsey noted that trailers and the annex at Bueker Middle School were intended to be temporary measures, but their use has continued for years and has only expanded as changes in education increase space needs.
One MDN Web site reader wondered whether the district explored the possibility of upgrading and expanding the four existing buildings and compared the cost to the cost of building a new school.
Noah said that option was not seriously considered.
"You could certainly add to them. It's always an option," he said. "I don't know if it's a wise investment."
The appearance of the four buildings may be somewhat misleading, he said. They look fine from the street, and there are no serious structural problems with any of them. The problems are less obvious but still significant.
"It's the asbestos, the lead paint, the pipes, the electrical systems, the plumbing," he said. "If we have something wrong with the pipes we have to break the floor open. We can't get to it."
Godsey noted for comparison that the old Fitzgibbon Hospital on South Brunswick Avenue was abandoned for similar reasons.
"That (old) hospital is newer than our school buildings. It was built in the 1930s," he said. "The reasons they abandoned the old hospital was for asbestos and wiring and plumbing and that's exactly what we're saying about our buildings."
Godsey also noted that upgrading existing buildings would not solve one of the problems the new school is intended to address: traffic.
The buildings were designed to be neighborhood schools, but about two decades ago they were converted to two-grade schools, each school hosting kindergarten classes plus one other elementary grade.
One result has been an increase in vehicle traffic in areas not designed to handle it, and Godsey said he was skeptical that a return to neighborhood schools would significantly reduce the traffic.
"You just don't have the number of kids walking to school like they used to. The traffic congestion is terrible. You can't solve that by adding on," he said. "If you add on to that building you're going to add to that problem, not correct that problem."
The current facility improvement plan would increase the number of students at Northwest and Benton schools but would reduce the number of students at BMS and would eliminate the use of Southeast and Eastwood schools for classroom use.
The plan's new upper elementary school would place students in grades three through five on South Odell Avenue just south of Stone Hedge Country Club. Architects have said the traffic flow would be designed to separate bus and private vehicle traffic.
Noah has said the district is open to suggestions about how to address the needs of students, but says something must be done.
The current elementary school buildings and trailers are not adequate.
"They're just not safe and secure," Noah said of the trailers. And the buildings are "a poor learning environment for kids."
"The argument I hear is that the buildings don't educate the kids. That's true, but if the kid is sitting in the classroom with a coat on because the old boiler system just didn't heat up quick enough, is that conducive to learning? If the kid who happens to sit next to the window is freezing, is that conducive to learning?"
And Noah asked voters to think how such environmental problems would affect their work. The same applies to the students, teachers and staff members in the district's school buildings, he said.