Big changes may be on the horizon for the Union School District.
The first draft of plans to upgrade the district’s facilities proposes the construction of a new elementary school and the closing of Clark-Vitt Elementary.
HTK Architects, the firm tasked with evaluating and brainstorming solutions to overcrowding issues, presented its first draft of a long-term master plan for the school district Wednesday, Nov. 15, at a school board meeting.
The long-term master plan outlines many upgrades and improvements throughout the district’s schools, as well as the construction of a preschool through fifth grade elementary school on the district owned land near East Central College.
The elementary school wouldn’t be the sole solution to the district’s overcrowding issues, which has made many school throughout the district to be at or around capacity. In the proposal, all elementary schools in the district would become preschool through fifth-grade facilities, and the middle school would become a sixth through eighth-grade building.
HTK president Mark Franzen and architect Matt Patterson presented the plan to the school board that outlined multiple facility issues they believe need to be resolved throughout the district.
The proposal identified issues in each building, possible improvements and one big idea for the building.
The middle school, which Patterson said is currently under- serving students, could get an addition of a new gym and classrooms. With the addition, the building could host sixth through eighth grade without overcrowding.
At Beaufort Elementary, the firm identified issues involving the lagoon near the school’s playground, limited parking and other space issues. Beaufort, in the proposed master plan, could receive a gym addition and classroom renovations, a current headache for the buildings staff. Expanded parking and a new playground are also being considered.
Patterson noted that Central Elementary and the High School did not have many issues, beyond regular maintenance issues. A new media center for the high school and restructuring classrooms and green space at Central were proposed in the plan..
Clark-Vitt Elementary, Patterson said, had a host of problems similar to Beauforts including electrical issues, sewer and water piping failures, and more. He said an ongoing issue with Clark-Vitt will be the layout of the building and the large hill it was built into, making it difficult to expand the current facilities.
Weinhold said what to do with Clark-Vitt if the district goes forward with the proposal is up for debate. He said one idea was to make the building into a career or technical center or some sort of alternative learning center.
If the elementary school were to be closed or given a new function, Weinhold said the faculty and staff of the school would be spread out between the existing and new elementary school.
Overall, Patterson said, the district’s buildings are in good shape. He said, however, the issue of overcrowding is rightfully a center-stage issue for the district.
“The major issue facing the district is simply overcrowding in its current facilities. The district has grown beyond the current capacity of existing facilities,” Patterson said.
Franzen said a major issue outside of overcrowding was the number of transitions students make throughout their time at Union. He said that can be a challenge to students as well as parents.
Cost and Financing
Franzen said HTK was its conservative with their cost estimate for the district’s long-term plan. The proposal put forth three separate options with three separate estimated price points.
The different estimates showed the most fluctuation from the overall price of a new school. Those three proposals ranged from $25.2 million to $31 million. Weinhold said he believes the price tag for the long-term plan will be lower than those price points in the first draft.
The district plans to finance any upgrades or building projects through a no-tax increase bond issue to be presented to voters in the April 2018 election. Weinhold added that the district could ask the voters for up to $25 million, but said there was work to be done before deciding how much will be asked for in April.
The implementation of these projects, if they were to be approved, would most likely be doled out into phases, Weinhold said, adding that while he doesn’t believe the long-term plan will change much, there is still time to make adjustments.
He said if the current proposal were to be approved by the board unchanged, and the tax levy is passed in April, the new school would be planned to be open for the 2020 school year, with construction beginning in 2018 or 2019.
The school board will hold a workshop Wednesday, Dec. 6, to further hone the plan with HTK, in hopes of preparing the proposal for a vote by the December meeting of the board.
“We’re just trying to prepare ourself for the future of the district. We’re trying to set the district up for the future,” Weinhold said. “We’re talking about 15, 30, 50 years down the road. It’s time for a redo on some of these buildings.”