(Eric Crump/Democrat-News) [Order this photo]
After the failure of the school building bond last fall, Marshall school district officials decided to seek input from voters about whether they would prefer renovating existing buildings rather than building new ones.
The district asked its construction management firm, Titan Construction, to study the four existing elementary schools and provide an estimate of what it would cost to completely renovate them.
At recent public meetings, Superintendent Craig Noah and Citizens for the School Bond Co-chairman Wayne Crawford have described what a renovation project would involve and asked voters for their opinions about that option.
Noah has stressed that the $20.5 million price tag is not "written in stone."
"That's the maximum. It's as close to brand new as possible," he said. "You can always go through and take some of that out. We could say 'This roof is only 7 years old, let's not do that.' Or 'we think the floors are fine.' You could go back and cut that back as much as you want to."
In fact, the plan will have to be pared down some in any case because the total cost exceeds the district's $20.3 million bonding capacity.
Noah listed the items in the scope of work as including new roofs, new electrical system, new plumbing, new heating and air conditioning systems, new interior glass, new walls and floors.
|Two more public meetings at Marshall elementary schools are scheduled for this week. Each meeting will include a tour of the host facility and an opportunity to ask questions of school officials:
--Eastwood Elementary School, 313 E. Eastwood St.: Thursday, Jan. 21, at 1 p.m.
Some of the most critical needs on the three oldest buildings involve the environmental systems. Although boilers are relatively new, plumbing, ductwork and mechanical elements of the systems are old and increasingly unreliable, according to district administrators.
"If you go into some of our elementary classrooms, the students by the radiators are too hot. The middle of the room is OK, and the other side is too cold," Noah said. After renovation, "it would be a more stable environment."
Those systems are some of the most expensive elements of the renovation plan.
The walls are another big-ticket item. Noah reported that the 1920-era buildings have brick exteriors, then block, then interior walls. There is no insulation and no vapor barrier.
The older schools, especially Southeast and Eastwood, also have chronic water seepage problems that renovation would help address.
Cost estimates for each building are $3.69 million for Eastwood, $3.64 million for Southeast, $4.45 million for Benton and $2.91 million for Northwest.
Renovation alone would not address a top priority for the district, one board members believe the community does support, and that is reducing or eliminating the use of trailers as classrooms.
Trailers were intended as temporary measures to get the district by while new schools were constructed, Crawford said. But new schools were not built, and some schools have depended on trailers as overflow classrooms for 40 years.
During the tour of Benton school Saturday, Jan. 16, Principal Paige Clouse said one trailer behind the school is about 40 years old and hosted classes until just two or three years ago. Each Marshall school campus has at least one trailer, and some have several.
To address the trailer situation, the renovation plan also includes additions to Benton and Northwest schools. The addition at Benton would house kindergarten classes, and the addition at Northwest would house fifth-grade classes that currently use trailers and an annex at Bueker Middle School.
The $5.8 million for additions is included in the $20.5 million renovation plan estimate.
One aspect of the district's current facility problems would not be addressed by the renovation/addition plan, according to Noah. The common spaces such as cafeterias and gyms would remain the same size and at Benton and Northwest would have more students to serve.
During the tour Tuesday, Jan. 19, at Northwest school, Principal Janine Machholz noted that as the newest of the four elementary schools, the building is in good shape.
"The concern we have is space," she said and then introduced citizens to "our cafe-gym-a-musi-torium," the room large room that serves as a gathering place for multiple purposes. "We do everything in here."
It isn't the only area of the building that serves multiple purposes.
Like the other elementary buildings, classrooms at Northwest have been subdivided to create two or three mini-classrooms for special program instruction, like English as a second language, speech therapy or Title 1 special instruction.
Noah has noted that the district's student population has not changed dramatically in 10 to 15 years.
But Crawford said in his research on the facility situation, he learned that the older elementary schools were designed to accommodate about 125 students. Each now has more than 200, including those housed in trailers.
At the meeting Saturday at Benton school, board member Anita Wright noted that curriculum and services have changed in recent decades.
The additional services, some mandated by state or federal regulations, have contributed to space problems.
"Curriculum has changed. Society has changed," Wright said.
At the Northwest meeting, school board member Teri Wright suggested an informal poll of the more than 30 citizens present to see whether they favored renovation or building new. A clear majority favored building new, according to Crawford, who did a quick count of hands raised.
But renovation has its advocates, and several have attended the public meetings to argue their case.
Lucy Fletcher, who chairs the Saline County Courthouse Preservation Committee, which is overseeing the renovation of the courthouse, spoke at the meeting Thursday, Jan. 14, at Southeast school. Part of her concern was with preserving the structures, but she also said she worries about the effects of building a new -- and larger -- building.
"I read that the larger the school, the less parent participation you have, because parents can no longer see their effectiveness in a larger environment," she said.
She added that she favors eliminating the trailers and adding to existing buildings.
"I do think we need to enlarge the footprint that we have. And I think you can do that by utilizing that space in a more permanent structure, tying it in architecturally to the buildings we have in a sound manner," she said.
"People live in a small community because they want a smaller, more rural environment for raising their families," she said. "I have always believed that the people of Marshall are very generous and if you give them something that they want, they'll vote for it," she said, noting the wide margin by which the courthouse renovation sales tax passed.
Another factor in the renovation/addition plan is the logistics of continuing to hold classes while construction and renovation are being done -- a process that might take a year or two to complete.
Noah said the district might have to rent more trailers temporarily, or find a large space in town to rent. Another option would be to build the additions first and then rotate classes into the new classrooms while renovation is being done on the old ones.
Even with those complications, Noah said the district would rise to the challenge.
"It would work. It's better than what we have," Noah said. "Can we do it? We can do anything."
Renovation estimate documents: