Architect says district needs new school
A $4.5 million school to relieve overcrowding at Baldwin Elementary School and Baldwin Junior High School is the district's biggest need, according to an architect's report presented to the school board Monday night.
Dick Ritchie, an educational planner for the Frangkiser Hutchens architectural firm, said the two most viable options for that school would be a fifth and sixth grade center or an elementary school with a sixth grade. He said both options would reduce the number of students at BES and BJHS by eliminating the sixth grade from the junior high building, and giving relief to BES by taking away one grade or adding a new elementary school.
"We feel there is a real problem at Baldwin Elementary School and the junior high with the number of students and programs you have there," Ritchie said at Monday's meeting. "We feel both facilities are currently taxed and that the burden will increase in the next few years. In our professional opinion, these buildings are too crowded."
Ritchie said a solution would be to build a school designed to serve 250 students, but with a cafeteria and media center designed to serve 400 students. As part of the design, additional classrooms could be built if enrollment should exceed 250 students. The price estimate he gave for such a school was $4.4-4.6 million.
The school board hired Frangkiser Hutchens to develop a master plan of the current and future needs of buildings in the district. The firm surveyed teachers, administrators and staff; met with community members; toured all of the buildings, and used all of the information to develop the plan.
Among the firm's other recommendations were additions at Vinland Elementary School, Marion Springs Elementary School and Baldwin High School.
An addition at Vinland Elementary School would probably require some property cooperation with the Vinland Fair Board. Ritchie suggested building a multipurpose gym at the school and adding classroom and other needed space in the current gym. He estimated that project at $1.2 million.
At Marion Springs where music and art are both held in the gym Ritchie recommended the addition of classroom space for music and art, and also storage space for the building. The cost estimate was $299,000. He also recommended a window replacement program at the building.
Baldwin High School's recommended additions included a performance arts center, a wrestling room with a locker area and an industrial arts building. The auditorium would cost about $600,000.
Ritchie said the high school received positive feedback from staff and community members as a newer building should, he added. However, community members indicated that an auditorium and a wrestling room were "promised" when the school was built.
"The program certainly justifies these and consideration should be given," he said.
Ritchie said the firm can also provide ideas for a pick up and drop off area at the junior high.
Despite the needs of the district, Ritchie said the architects that toured the buildings complimented how well the buildings have been maintained.
"The district benefits from your maintenance program," he said.
The architects found no code, health safety or structural problems in the building. Ritchie said some ADA requirements would have to met with improvements, including restrooms that are "truly" handicapped accessible and door clearances that are compatible with wheel chairs.
The master plan presented to board members in a thick binder hadn't been seen by board members prior to the meeting. They plan to review the information and submit questions to Supt. James White for answers from Frangkiser Hutchens before the Jan. 8 board meeting. The board plans to meet at 6 p.m. that night to discuss the master plan. The regular board meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. The location will be announced.
White said he wasn't surprised that the district needs a new school. He said the district's facilities committee has frequently discussed that option. But he doesn't think the district patrons are ready to fund a bond issue for a new school.
"If we try to do a building now for $4.6 million, that might be difficult to sell to the community right now," said White. City and school district taxes increases by more than 25 mills this year. "I am concerned about the tax burden on the residents right now. I also think this community is very supportive of education. It looks like something we need."
He said the district's local option budget could fund some of the other projects. However, a new school would mean a search for land around 15 acres is recommended by Ritchie and determining the correct approach for a bond issue, White said.
"The prudent thing to do would be to do it," he said. "By the time we get it done we will need it."