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School officials cite inadequate facilities, traffic congestion as reasons for new school push

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The annex behind Bueker Middle School was the first such structure added to Marshall school district facilities. BMS also has trailer units on the south side of the main building. The "temporary" structures are a source of concern for school officials, who hope voters will approve a bond issue that will allow the district to build a new elementary school, eliminating the need for modular classrooms.
(Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles about a proposed building project in the Marshall Public School District. The Board of Education will meet Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 6:30 p.m. to take up the question of whether to place a bond issue on the November ballot. Readers have posed a number of questions and concerns in discussion forums on The Marshall Democrat-News Web site, and this series will provide responses from school officials.

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.

The most recently added "trailer" is this modular classroom situated on the west side of Marshall High School. The district has been adding trailers to its school campuses for several decades and now each school has at least one.
(Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
The district has enlisted an architectural firm and is in the process of hiring a construction management firm to complete the development of plans and cost estimates for a new upper elementary building and expansion of two existing elementary schools.

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.

The front entrance to Benton Elementary School. If voters approve the bond issue the school board is expected to put on the November ballot, Benton would be slated for an overhaul of its heating and cooling system and would get additional classrooms built on the west side of the building.
(Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
Superintendent Craig Noah noted that total enrollment hasn't changed much in the past five or six years. It remains at about 2,500 students.

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.

The cornerstone at Southeast Elementary School indicates the age of the building, constructed in 1928. Benton, Eastwood and Bueker Middle schools are older. The two elementary schools were built in 1922, and the middle school, formerly Marshall High School, was built in 1923.
(Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
He also noted that the federal No Child Left Behind law specifies maximum teacher-student ratios that cause some redistribution of students.

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."

Godsey concurred.

"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.

Contact Eric Crump at marshalleditor@socket.net

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Many older children have to get ready in the morning by themselves because their parents have to leave for work. I see many older elementary kids walking and riding their bikes to school.

Why put the "New" elementary so far from the majority of kids that walk and ride their bikes??

This whole plan does not seem very well thought out just a huge push for something new by administrators who do not truly know the community as a whole because of not living in Marshall long enough and the other not living in Marshall at ALL!!!

I know if I were to build a new house I would take at least a year to plan exactly what I wanted and needed plus COULD I AFFFORD IT????

-- Posted by Tito on Sat, Aug 22, 2009, at 8:26 AM

Yes one child would be too much - even if it wasn't my child, but I don't think that has happened or is likely to happen. I think that saying that the condition of the schools has put a kid in the hospital is one of the most ridiclous things that I have read. Stick to the facts instead of trying to use scare tactics to get people to vote for an issue.

-- Posted by jebbs on Fri, Aug 21, 2009, at 5:44 AM

If it were only one sick child and that was your child, would one be enough?

-- Posted by Red Witch on Thu, Aug 20, 2009, at 2:29 PM

Red Witch - do you think that you might have overstated things a bit? Just how many kids do you think that have been hospitalized or will be because of the conditions of the school?

-- Posted by jebbs on Thu, Aug 20, 2009, at 1:23 PM

Our kids are our greatest resource and it is our responsibility to see that they get the best education that we can provide. People, we need this school! Our kids are attending classes in old buildings with lead pipes and asbestos hazards, and sitting in classes with their coats on to keep warm. They have to go outside to the trailers for some classes.

We pulled together to update our hospital, lets pull together to build a new school. We don't want our kids to be a patient in our newly updated hospital because they became sick from being exposed to adverse conditions in our outdated schools.

And no, I do not have kids in school and at my age, I will not ever have any kids to utlize the new school. But, and this is from a purely selfish view point, the better educated our kids become, the better chance they will have to become successful and earn the resources to continue the growth of our fine community.

Yes, I am a property owner and will consider the increase in my property taxes if this issue passes as an investment in my future.

Come, on Marshall, lets do this for the kids!

-- Posted by Red Witch on Thu, Aug 20, 2009, at 10:18 AM

Regarding the students who walk and ride their bikes - Is it really an inconvenience if they can't do that anymore? Personally, I wouldn't feel safe for my elementary grade student to walk or ride their bike. I consider the location an advantage, because the majority of students will be able to ride the bus. Yes, there are a few elementary age kids in the so called "Golden Triangle", but I feel certain that these people are not being catered to.

As far as doing everything all at once - Are you kidding me? Everyone is complaining about the cost now - Do you think doing everything is going to be cheaper?! Let's get past our own preferences and be realistic. Build a school for our kids!

-- Posted by outsidelookin'in on Wed, Aug 19, 2009, at 9:01 AM

Countryman, where would you suggest a new school building be built? Everyone wants to criticize the proposed location, but no one wants to suggest an alternative site that will work. If you have a better idea, I'm sure the school board would love to hear it.

-- Posted by OldOwl on Wed, Aug 19, 2009, at 8:20 AM

I agree 100% we need a new school, but I draw the line on voting for it , if it does not include k-8, fixing up some of the old and in a few years neeeding more is not the way to go. Do it all in one swoop and have the best of the best. It is crazy to keep one or two buildings and fix them up.

-- Posted by litlmissme on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 6:48 PM
Response by Eric Crump/Editor:
Every district official I've talked to about the issue agrees with you, but it comes down to available money. The district can't borrow enough to build a K-8 school. More in a minute on what they can, and hope to, build.

I agree that the buildings are in need of replacement in the worst way.

Do any elementary students actually live anywhere near the location south of the Country Club?

Many elementary kids in this age group do walk or ride thier bikes to school, which I think is great. I reckon we are going to take that privledge away by locating the school near the supposed "Golden Triangle" which doesn't seem so golden to me.

In the past, all surveys and studies indicated that the majority of elementary age students in Marshall lived north of Arrow Street. If this was true, then should we locate the school as far as possible from them?

-- Posted by countryman on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 3:35 PM

To clarify, I am not denying that the schools are in shambles. Sounds like broke n busted was at the same school I was in. That school also has a 'bug' issue, not sure if anyone else has had that report.

What I am saying is that when it comes to tax payers it is going to come to the all mighty dollar. If they want to get a new school they will need to talk dollars and cents.

Not all tax payers have school aged children, so why will they want to fork out extra money? School taxes are already crazy high, that is my opinion.

My theory...clearly the State of Missouri does not care what conditions our children are taught in. What they do care about is if we feed them and put a roof over their heads, therefore already stressed pockets won't be willing to pay out more money at this point.

-- Posted by Scarpetta on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 3:35 PM

Come of people are we really going to put a price on our childerns education. Go tour the schools, they are dark and old. The high school has had the same green capert since it was built. The kids have to walk in the rain and snow to get to the trailers. Lets think about what we want for our kids!

-- Posted by motherof8 on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 2:42 PM

I took my kid to see her new class and meet her teacher a few nights ago. The room was cramped. The desks were ancient and in need of repair. There was paint peeling from the wall in several locations. An electrical box housing telephone wires was hanging loose from the wall. The room smelled musty and moldy. And all of that was just from a casual observers point of view. I'm sure an inspection would reveal many more problems. Disgraceful folks. Disgraceful.

-- Posted by broke-n-busted on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 2:27 PM

Education is important and priceless...well kinda I guess. However it always comes to the all mighty dollar.

-- Posted by Scarpetta on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 2:13 PM

JustMe100 - Thanks for the comments from another perspective. I hope that you will stay in Marshall and that Marshall can make this happen for our kids. It is needed, and I am so glad the district and MDN are trying to give more info and answer some questions. Yes, dollars and cents are important, but the education of our children is more important. An education is priceless!

-- Posted by outsidelookin'in on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 1:27 PM

We need to look at replacing some schools with year round school being the ultimate goal.

-- Posted by Seagarr on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 1:21 PM

We have recently moved to Marshall. Previously, we lived in a town that had a beautiful new elementary and a newer middle school. It was great to walk into bright well-lit buildings with room for everyone and built with the current security worries in mind. They also were built to current energy standards so they used less energy. After the first year here, we seriously considered looking at moving to Sedalia or Booneville or some other city because we thought the current buildings are dark and small and crowded. New schools help a town feel good. It also shows the kids that they are important and that the community feels an education is important and worthwhile - and in today's world with few manufacturing jobs still in the U.S., it is more important than ever to have that education. Yes, it may cost money but the community must look into the future and see the long-term investment and the pride that will come from building a new school.

-- Posted by JustMe100 on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 1:11 PM

Dollars cents people...I noticed in the article about Slater School's Bond issue...it said point blank there was no increase in taxes for this. Is this the same in Marshall? In this economy let's talk dollars and cents...that is going to be the make or break point for voters in my opinion.

-- Posted by Scarpetta on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 12:18 PM

Good information. I hope the nay sayers are reading these!!!

-- Posted by outsidelookin'in on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 12:16 PM

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