Facilities task force meets, brainstorms

NEW ULM – A variety of ideas were exchanged Tuesday night, as 40-plus community task force members and administrators brainstormed in groups as to how best to meet the strategic facility needs of District 88.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first of four sessions scheduled between now and next April. The task force’s deliberations will culminate in a report to the school board, in which the voluntary advisory panel of will list its findings and make recommendations on how to proceed.

Consultants KA and SGN/Wendell Architects opened up the Tuesday session with a presentation of current research and background information on district facilities.

The consultants reviewed the district’s primary needs and why a facility study was needed. They presented key elements of the study including: interviews of stakeholders, an analysis of enrollment, finance, programs, services and staffing, a space utilization analysis, and a facility evaluation. The consultants also shared specific notes on each facility, derived from walkthroughs of school buildings, and staff thought of facility needs gathered through surveys and building-specific meetings.

After hearing this background information, the task force broke up into eight groups. Each group brainstormed, then presented, ideas of how facilities needs could potentially be addressed. While the task force was made aware that costs can affect what actually happens, the idea was to, more or less, “dream”- address the issues from a strategic viewpoint.

Ideas (some complementary, some mutually exclusive) that resulted from the brainstorming included (a partial list):

Rethink the grade level configuration of each of the present school buildings (High School, grades 7-12; Washington School, grades 4-6, Jefferson School, grades K-3). Potentially create a middle school/high school campus at the current Jefferson School/High School location. Place early elementary grades (and potentially also pre-school grades) on the current Washington School campus.

Sell the former Middle School building, which is too costly to remodel.

Remove the current annex/portable math classroom buildings.

Connect Jefferson and the High School with a commons areas (cafeteria, learning, testing, culinary/industrial tech and/or other spaces), to be shared by high-school and middle-grade students.

Add new performing arts/gym spaces to the main campus; create performance art or athletic spaces that are community-oriented.

Upgrade athletic fields, to better serve students and boost school spirit and pride.

Plan for the possibility of adding extra levels to any new construction.

Achieve greater utilization of Vogel Fieldhouse for school needs.

Close off Garden Street to traffic/create across the street parking.

Swap the Washington School property for the property that belongs to St. Paul’s Lutheran School, to create a single campus. The move may cut transportation/staff costs and may create efficiencies for both school systems.

Utilize a former retail building for pre-K-Kindergarten classes.

Purchase houses adjacent to the main campus to accommodate expansion.

Next, the consultants will summarize the ideas and begin putting together some different scenarios that would result from different approaches, for consideration by the task force.

In addition, administrators will prepare extra information in answer to questions raised at the meeting: for example, about demographic and special education trends and projections, current operational costs for various sites, grade configurations in other districts, etc.

The task force will next meet Jan. 14, 2014.

Any projects that get board approval would likely also require voter funding approval, potentially through a referendum next fall.

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