Washington School District officials met with South Point Elementary parents this week to discuss building repairs and the need for a new school facility.
The gym at South Point is no longer being used due to structural integrity concerns with horizontal cracks that have worsened.
School officials are consulting with their architect and engineers for short-term remediation options to make the gym safe for use, but the long-term solution is to retire the building and build a new school facility.
“We covered a lot at the meeting, and I was thrilled with the participation and the attentiveness of the parents,” Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer told The Missourian.
“Naturally, they have concerns, as they should, and overall they asked all the right questions,” she said. “I’m happy to have such transparency and cooperation.”
VanLeer also sent out an email to South Point families concerning both the status of the building, and long-term plans for a new school.
A video of the parent meeting can be found on the South Point page on the Washington School District website.
The district’s architect and structural engineers who have inspected the building also were at the meeting to provide information and answer questions. They said reinforcing the gym walls would bring the facility up to the codes of the time when it was built and would make it safe for student use.
However, they were reluctant to say that the problem would be entirely solved due to the conditions with the soil below.
The parent meeting follows discussion at the October school board meeting and a special four-hour board workshop held last week to discuss ballot initiatives, financial data and enrollment.
VanLeer said the immediate concerns are repairs to the gym.
Bid specifications for that work are currently being developed by a structural engineer and the district will then advertise for bids.
VanLeer said the school board will then review proposals, noting the board has the right to reject any and all bids.
Asked how much the repairs would cost, officials said $100,000 is a preliminary estimation.
“Providing an acceptable remediation is proposed and approved, substantial completion of repairs is estimated for mid-March for the gymnasium to reopen to the students,” VanLeer said. “The architects and engineers are confident the academic areas of the school are safe and will remain usable during any potential construction.”
VanLeer said those repairs will “buy the district time” as it pursues construction of a new school building.
“Board members are currently working hard with district administration to analyze options for having a no-tax rate increase bond issue on the April 2019 ballot,” she said.
“Due to careful debt management and an improved economy, we feel we are in a position to accomplish this without a tax increase.”
With the urgency of the situation and the accelerated time line for pursuing a bond issue, VanLeer told parents it’s more critical than ever to work together to get this accomplished.
The district also hopes to include safety upgrades, including entry vestibules, at all of the schools as part of the bond issue and possibly some improvements at the middle school.
Once the school board approves placing the bond issue on the ballot, VanLeer said a citizens campaign committee will be formed to help promote it to the community. The committee would be comprised of parents and other community members.
VanLeer said more detailed information will be shared in the coming weeks, along with a question and answer document.
“We need our parents and the community to understand the issue and how it impacts all of the schools,” she said.
The district attempted to pass ballot measures in 2012 and 2013, which would have allowed them to relocate or build a new school, but both failed. The district owns property off Highway 100 East for future development.
If It Fails
Failure to pass a bond issue and the inability to utilize the current South Point campus could result in student redistribution throughout the other six elementary attendance areas.
School officials said relocating students also could happen if the building further deteriorated and was deemed unsafe — something they don’t expect to happen, but they will have a plan in place in case it does.
The district is currently seeking bids for a demographic study to help determine how students would be shifted, and different scenarios have been discussed.
Because Clearview and Washington West schools are at or near capacity, South Point students would have to be split between Campbellton, Labadie, Augusta and Marthasville.
VanLeeer said this would result in higher class sizes throughout the district and not enough classrooms to accommodate the population of students. Transportation costs also would increase
Additionally, the district would consider other available space to rent, and the addition of more modular trailers on current elementary campuses.
VanLeer stressed relocating students among different buildings is not ideal, and would only be done if South Point were ever to be determined unsafe for occupancy while a new school is built or the bond issue fails.
VanLeer said South Point Elementary is in a 100-year flood plain, and there are many issues with the building that have been articulated publicly over the years.
The school, which is currently at capacity and utilizing three trailer-style classrooms, has 433 students and approximately 70 staff members.