USD 373 is now moving from designing a strategic vision for the district to implementation of the vision and design of a plan that includes action steps for addressing the recommendations from the planning process. Staff and board members will be working to create "the place where the passion for learning leads to creativity." #placetobe373

At this time, the Board is spending significant time addressing the facility portion of the comprehensive plan. You might be asking why would we begin there. For me, the short answer is because it takes so long to move from deciding to do something about facilities to actually breaking ground or renovating space. The process is slow and although some are surprised by the current board discussions, this is a process that has been underway since November of 2014. By virtue of timing, if not concern over the timetable, the Board will not be passing a resolution to move forward with a bond election in May. The next earliest date to be considered is September. There are pros and cons to any potential bond election dates in the next year. As a reminder, whenever there is a bond election, it is projected that it will take a year from the approval of the electorate to move forward to the actual onset of work beginning. The length of time includes the drafting, reviewing, and approving of specific designs to address the projects; writing bids for contractors that describe thoroughly the projects; opening and approving bids; interviewing and hiring contractors; and then setting timelines and finalizing details.

The "big" components of the recommendations that are being discussed include a major renovation of the high school, determination of how to deal with current capacity issues at Santa Fe and Chisholm, determination of how to address facility needs for Walton Rural Life Center. For Newton High School, the "major renovation" can be described in this way: the original (44 year old part of the high school) will be stripped back to the exterior shell and rebuilt. This includes all areas that have not been touched during previous bond issues. While there are no specific designs (that will come later in the process), the plan will be to redesign the current academic space to address needs for flexibility (not to be confused with walls that can move and yet never move), collaborative space, and 21st century learning environments. This renovation will include new HVAC throughout the building, new lighting, and basically new everything. The spaces in the main building that were built in the 1997 bond will receive minor renovation to include HVAC and lighting (among addressing any other needs). Other areas of the high school such as Ravenscroft Gym and the swimming pool will be renovated. Some identified concerns such as not enough seating in the pool area may not be able to be addressed due to space issues, but the 44-year old pool itself will be addressed. 

The significant renovation at the high school will require the creation of new space in order to be able to do the renovations in phases. On a conceptual floor plan, the "new space" was identified as an auxiliary gym. Based on our current needs, the new space will not be an auxiliary gym. But in order to come up with some preliminary figures, the architectural firm, DLR, used a gym as holder space. The new space could be one of a variety of ideas including a science wing or a performing arts center. Determining exactly what is needed/desired is key to moving forward. It is projected that the renovation process will take approximately 30 months once the work begins. During that time, classrooms will be moved multiple times in order to accommodate work continuing year round. 

Both Santa Fe and Chisholm Middle School (approximate enrollment at each school - 500) are at capacity for the buildings. This means that there is not sufficient classroom space to accommodate additional students. Class size already exceeds 25 many times on a limited basis. The current first grade class has 270 students in it. If we retain all of those students, the class size for all 5th grade teachers in a few years will be 27+. By repurposing some space, we might be able to add one more class; however that in and of itself creates many issues from space for lunches to specials (electives) classes to scheduling issues. A similar condition exists at Chisholm. If the community grows (city projection is 1-2% per year), the current space is not going to be sufficient for the next 20 years. As a reminder, the comprehensive plan is attempting to address current and future needs. The district is working with a demographer to learn what our current enrollment shows us as well as what our future needs might be. As you can imagine there are many unknowns such as businesses that might move to town or other economic factors that might influence community growth. 

During the 1997 and 2007 bond campaigns, Walton Rural Life Center had limited work done (addition of three classrooms and storm shelter). Since that time, the school population has grown due to the development of the charter school with project-based learning and agricultural focus. The school now houses 200 students and does not have the space or features that other elementary schools in the district have. This is an emotional issue given the location of the school and the significant needs to be addressed. The Board and district administration are committed to continuing the program (project-based, agricultural focus) that is the Rural Life Center. The community input gathered during the comprehensive planning process clearly indicates that the community supports growing programs such as what is offered at WRLC. However, something must be done to address the issues because there are not comparable facilities at all elementary schools, the space that is at WRLC does not address the educational program being offered, there is not sufficient space in "town" schools to move all of the school population into the existing elementary schools, and the modular classroom space that was added was a temporary solution. So, once again, the solution needs to address current and future needs. 

These are the big pieces of the facilities needs that we are working to address. Smaller, yet important, projects will include security cameras, keyless entry points, technology infrastructure upgrades, and tornado safety enhancements at other schools. Wow! That's a lot of work!!

— Deb Hamm is superintendent of USD 373. She can be reached via phone at 284-6206 or email at deborah.hamm@usd373.org