Study evaluates space needs in District 88 buildings

NEW ULM – Special ed, physical and vocational education and performing arts needs feature prominently in a new facilities study shared with District 88 administrators, school board members and a volunteer task force earlier this month.

The study was completed this December by consultants SGN Wendel and Kraus-Anderson Construction Company.

The study was motivated by a need for the district to provide a quality teaching and learning environment; enhance operational cost effectiveness; minimize the waste of resources and time and rising maintenance costs, and create space for the community of New Ulm, recapped John Huenink of Kraus-Anderson.

The study includes: interviews of stakeholders; an analysis of enrollment, finances, programs, services and staffing; a space utilization analysis; a facility evaluation; and an evaluation of key factors in education that may drive needs in the future.

Some highlights of the findings include:

High School (grades 7-12):

An auditorium and better band and music areas are needed.

More appropriate space is needed for an active STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program centered around “Project Lead the Way” and for FACS/culinary arts classes.

Currently, many physical education classes happen in the hallways. Room is needed for gymnastics; physical education and activities needs also include gymnasium space, track repair, tennis courts replacement, better lighting at the outdoor fields, etc.

More storage is needed.

Although well spaced throughout the building, special learning programs could be better accommodated.

The cafeteria should be expanded and be made more inviting.

Booster groups, the community, etc. could benefit from meeting space.

Washington School

(grades 4-6):

More gym space is needed.

The cafeteria is “very cramped” at lunch.

Special education space needs are not well met.

A loading dock is needed for deliveries.

ADA restrooms are needed.

Jefferson School

(grades K-3):

The site needs improved or increased space for special education.

The building is at capacity, and another (eighth) kindergarten room may have to be added next year.

ADA restrooms are needed.

The building needs more gym space, storage space and common (gathering and group learning) spaces.

The cafeteria is cramped, and a second serving line “would be nice.”

In addition, all three sites lack appropriate front entrance security, with offices remote from main doors, the consultants say.

The consultants based their space assessment on enrollment trends. The school population is “holding steady, but with a recent growth in the elementary level,” they most notably observed. Next year will likely see the largest kindergarten class in eight years or so – just under 160 students.

The consultants also recapped standards for educational space. Standards in building sizes call for: 150-160 square feet per student in elementary schools, 200-plus square feet per student in middle schools, and 200-250 square feet per student in high schools, they said.

In comparison, Jefferson School provides 163 square feet per student, Washington 220 square feet, and the high school 163 square feet. Some of these numbers may look OK, but special education classrooms have grown significantly over the years and can throw off ratios, the consultants stressed. For example, currently 10 classrooms at Jefferson and eight rooms at Washington are used by special education.

The consultants also surveyed a variety of stakeholders, asking them to rate facilities as to how they meet a specific department’s needs. Among other things, staff were asked to assess if different classes or activities would be offered if space was available; if buildings provide equal learning opportunities; if programs are sustainable in their current locations, and if spaces are flexible to meet their future needs; and if the grade configuration supports learning, as well as safety and security. The question that brought the most concern related to program sustainability and growth potential, found the consultants. Interviewees also questioned the 7-12 grade arrangement, expressed a wish for closer proximity of pre-K and kindergarten programs and, in general, would streamline grade organization.

The study provides a basis for discussion for a new Facilities Task Force. Following an introductory meeting this month, this group will meet again on Jan. 14, Feb. 11, and March 11, 2014, to develop recommendations about strategic upgrades. A request for funding, for whatever plan eventually gains school board approval, will likely be made to voters at the next general election.

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