School Board members discuss possible facilities improvements
At the Prairie Hills USD No. 113 Board of Education meeting on Monday, Feb. 10, board members discussed information regarding possible facilities improvements in the district.
First, the board heard from School Board representatives of the Fifth Grade Facilities Committee (FGFC) — established at the Dec. 9, 2019, meeting.
FGFC member Jim Scoby advised the board that many individuals, including some middle school teachers and parents, are not in favor of moving the fifth grade to the Sabetha Middle School campus.
He also stated that the middle school itself was designed for three grades, and although a fourth grade and some new classrooms could be added to the campus, it would “probably be a little inconvenient.”
“If you look at the class sizes in the fourth through eighth grades, they are a little bit smaller classes. The bigger classes are in the lower grades. Once those bigger classes get up to, say, the fifth, sixth and seventh grades, it would push the middle school. I think that aspect, with the input from all the teachers from the grade school and middle school, as well as from some parents, I think the general consensus was ‘keep the [fifth] grade the way it is,’” J. Scoby said.
FGFC member Kent Saylor advised the board that they should focus their efforts more on improving the facilities within the district.
“I still think there’s a number of things to do at the elementary school, and I think there are some things we also want to do at Wetmore and Axtell. I think it would be better if we put our time and effort in analyzing those with some professionals,” Saylor said. “To me, I think we have enough things [improvements] we need to work on. I think we ought to put our efforts into facility improvements the way they are.”
Saylor also mentioned low interest rates can be used to the board’s advantage.
“Interest rates are down historically. They’re the lowest they’ve been in over 20 years. We can take advantage of that by [improving facilities] within a reasonable amount of time,” Saylor said. “I think, financially, we could make it happen and have it paid off in a fairly short term. We could have all of this done in five to six years.”
Lippert shared her concerns about moving the smaller fifth grade class now, when the larger classes will create problems in the future.
“The lower elementary grades are large enough that, if we had a magic wand and everything worked perfectly smoothly, by the time they get up to the middle school building, it [moving the fifth grade to SMS] would be inadequate and inappropriate and we’d be redoing it again. The numbers in the lower grades don’t support that as a reasonable option,” Lippert said.
She also was concerned about the student teacher ratio increasing.
“The student teacher ratio at the middle school is already at 12. I don’t think it promotes the best student learning environment to increase that student teacher ratio,” Lippert said.
The board decided to cease consideration of moving the fifth grade to SMS.
The board then heard from Robert Hansen of Hansen Design Architects, who provided an updated cost estimate for potential additions and upgrades at Sabetha Elementary School.
Hansen first presented his recommendations for improving four of five campuses in the district at the Nov. 11, 2019, meeting. He had been tasked with inspecting the district campuses and acting as a consultant for the board in regard to facility improvements and possible renovation plans.
At the Jan. 13, 2020, meeting, Hansen made additions to his project cost estimate for remodeling SES, which include replacing classroom glazing in original building and relocating the hard surface play area.
At this month’s meeting, Hansen presented his updated project cost estimate for renovating SES. He added the cost of constructing two new classrooms to the budget — an estimated cost of $340,000. The new total estimated project cost is $4,067,639.
Hansen also discussed construction options with the board, including the placement and location of the new classrooms, and gave speculations as to how much time it would take to design a final draft and finish construction. Not including time for bids, Hansen estimates the project will take a minimum of 18 months and a maximum of 24 months — six to eight months to design the draft and 12 to 16 months for construction.
SES Principal Sara Toedman came before the board to share her thoughts on the project. She said space, especially for testing, is an issue at SES, and she would like to see the two new classrooms be placed toward the south side of the campus rather than the north side — where Hansen originally placed them.
Superintendent Todd Evans included a lease purchase as an option for making payments on the project. He also made up a project cost estimate for making the originally suggested improvements to SES, as well as Axtell and Wetmore campuses, to determine approximately how many mills would be needed to pay for the project and what the district can afford.
The improvements project is still in its information-gathering stage, and no final decisions have been made.
To look more into possible projects, the board selected members for a district-wide Facility Improvement Committee. Board members selected for the committee, approved by the board as a whole, were Leslie Scoby, J. Scoby and Saylor.
See full minutes from the School Board meeting here.