The basic design for a new three-grade elementary school has not changed dramatically in the past decade, an indication that educational needs have not changed dramatically in that time, according to district officials.
But when the district returned to the project last summer after a hiatus of several years, Superintendent Craig Noah first convened teachers to get their advice about what they need from school facilities.
"They described the learning spaces optimum to them," he said. That information was given to architects, who returned with a design for a building that would have cost about $19 million.
The bond issue to finance that building failed at the polls in November, however, so district officials revisited the plan.
"Feedback we got was that it was too much, the cost was too high," Noah said. "What we've done is we've come back and shrunk that cost down to around $16 million."
Tim Rosa, representative of Titan Construction, and Bill Mankin of ACI Frangkiser Hutchens, presented the revised design to the board at its Jan. 5 meeting.
To reduce costs, ceilings were lowered from 20 feet to 12 feet in the media center and gymnasium.
Architects worked on the assumption that the site for the school would be the Banks property on South Odell Avenue, because that was the site chosen last fall.
A second driveway from the street to the school was added to help relieve traffic congestion, but it was removed from the revised plan to save money.
And a ground source heating system -- included in the design last fall in the interest of long-term efficiency and cost savings -- was removed because its initial costs are higher than conventional heating systems.
One community member at a recent meeting questioned the removal of ground source heating, noting that it is both greener and more efficient.
"We eliminated things not because we want to, but to respond to members of the community who thought the cost was too high," said board member Anita Wright.
The school board has re-opened the site selection process, and the result of its decision could have some impact on the total cost of the building because of differences in site preparation and access road costs.
Rosa said site selection would not make a significant difference considering the size of the project.
What the new design did not change was the shape and size of the learning spaces. Classrooms, at about 850 square feet, will be larger than in any of the district's existing elementary schools, Noah said.
The new building would also have "swing" classrooms that introduce flexibility in scheduling and would help the district handle any particularly large classes.
The design also includes focus rooms and classrooms for special programs like speech therapy, Title 1 reading and math, occupational and physical therapy.
Those are uses that didn't exist when the current schools were built, forcing the district to improvise, subdividing traditional classrooms to make small spaces for those kinds of instruction.
The new school would also have rooms for music and art, classes that currently are relegated to trailers at some schools and the gymnasium at others.
The design also includes a media center/library, cafeteria and regulation-size gymnasium.
Between the cafeteria and gym is a platform that can serve as a stage facing either room, depending on whether dividers are open or closed on one side or the other.
Rosa said the expected lifespan of the new building would be about 50 years. The estimated lifespan of renovated existing buildings would be about 20 years, he said.
Even with the budget trim, the building appears to be too expensive to some critics of the plan.
"I had a person say to me, 'That's a lot of money.' Yeah, it is. You're building a school," said Wayne Crawford, co-chairman of Citizens for the School Bond. "The building itself is about $120 a square foot. That's not out of line. Ten years ago when I was putting up buildings for the Department of Mental Health, we thought we'd hit the lottery if we could put up a building for less than $150" per square foot.
"That's a building that has in it what the children need," he added.
Walt Keith, who has attended nearly every public meeting on the subject to offer ideas for saving costs, has suggested the district avoid architect's fees.
"You have to have professional engineers, but you don't have to have an architect," he said at one recent public meeting.
But Noah said the district signed a contract with ACI prior to the 2000 bond issue and if it backs out now, it will be forced to pay the company for all the hours it has put into design work since then.
ACI and Titan Construc-tion are providing services on the project but are not paid until a bond issue passes.
One issue raised at recent meetings is the fact that even if a new school is built now, the district's long-range plan calls for another building to be built in eight to 10 years. In the meantime, three of the four older schools will still be used for classes.
Noah has said the administration is working on a new facility plan that will take into account the growing maintenance needs of the older buildings, anticipating needs as best it can.
"Whether this passes or not, we've got to have a long-term facility plan. You can't wait until something falls apart," Noah said. "You can always manage anything that's thrown at you."
Crawford argued that the days are numbered for the existing schools, regardless of the board's decision Monday about whether to build new or renovate.
"I personally think that whether we pass this bond or not this time, we are going to build new schools some day. We have to," he said. "I mean, eventually something's going to fall in."