Fifth Street School

A view of the Fifth Street School from inside the Washington Public Library

Washington School District officials are considering a plan that would involve expanding one elementary school while closing another.

Thanks to savings from projects financed through a no-tax rate increase bond issue, the district is considering an 11-classroom addition at Washington West, its newest elementary school located off West Highway 100.

If approved, Fifth Street Elementary, located at 100 W. Fifth St. in Downtown Washington, would be closed and sold. The two-story brick building was built in the 1930s.

The school board was briefed on the proposed plan at its meeting Wednesday night.

Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said there are funds left over from the no-tax rate increase bond issue approved in April 2013 because bids for all of those projects came in much lower than estimates.

“It’s a very competitive market right now with companies looking for work so we were very fortunate in how the bids came in,” she said. “We want to take that remaining money, plus the sale of Fifth Street, and build an addition onto West.”

VanLeer said she believes there are interested buyers for the Fifth Street building, which is located next to Immanuel Lutheran Church and School.

Both Fifth Street and South Point Elementary are two schools the district wants to retire due to the high cost to renovate and make HVAC improvements. South Point also is located in a floodplain.

The district planned to close both schools if voters had approved a $40 million bond issue with a 25-cent tax rate increase last April. That plan would have allowed them to build a new middle school, serving sixth through eighth grades, on land it owns off Highway 100 East.

While the tax rate increase failed, a $9 million bond issue which did not require a tax rate increase issue passed in that same election allowing the district to add classrooms at Marthasville Elementary, complete HVAC renovations at Augusta Elementary, upgrade to wireless technology in all buildings and build a new Early Learning Center currently under construction at the Washington West campus.

Plan Details

VanLeer said Washington West is pressed for space now, with art and music classes not being held in dedicated rooms.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brendan Mahon said school officials revisited their original long-range facilities plan to determine the best use for the remaining bond issue money.

“We think 11 classrooms would address needs at West and allow us to retire Fifth Street,” he told the board.

Mahon said the impact on staff at Fifth Street also was discussed, but all employees will keep their jobs.

“They may not all go to West, but all of the staff will be absorbed,” VanLeer added.

School officials are looking at the pros and cons of a one- or two-story addition at West, as well as city code requirements for the expansion.

One such requirement is a 26-foot paved fire lane around the school. Mahon said the fire loop will cut through the playground, which may have to be moved.

VanLeer said a one-story addition is preferred because a two-story wing would require an elevator, but the fire loop may necessitate the need to go up, rather than out.

“We hope to come back to the board next month with much more information and possibly some recommendations,” she said.

The district also has begun a demographics study of the student population in each school attendance area and will analyze where adjustments need to be made.

“It’s very complicated,” VanLeer said. “It might be that not all current Fifth Street students would go to Washington West. Most likely the majority would, but we need to research all of the attendance areas and possibly make some adjustments.”

Fifth Street has a current enrollment of about 130 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Washington West has approximately 452 students in K-6.