Construction of a new middle school is the most expensive project proposed in the Washington School District’s April ballot initiative, and it’s the most needed, says Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer.
“It’s the game changer in terms of freeing up space,” VanLeer told The Missourian.
“It’s also the project that cannot be done without an increase to the tax levy,” she said.
The middle school project is included in Question 2 of the district’s two-part bond issue seeking voter approval of a $40 million bond issue with a 25-cent increase to the existing debt service levy. It also would allow for some minor renovations to the current middle school which would be converted into a K-5 elementary school.
Space Is Key
VanLeer said a new middle school serving sixth, seventh and eighth grades would create much-needed classroom space at all of eight elementary schools. Currently, the middle school only serves seventh and eighth grades.
Repurposing the current middle school into an elementary also would allow the district to retire two aging facilities — Fifth Street, which is in need of major repairs, and South Point, which is located in a floodplain and currently utilizing modular trailers for some classrooms.
“The biggest advantage to all of this is the space gained,” VanLeer said.
“Our elementary schools would not only have more space for their current enrollments, but also for more programming, such as science laboratories, to provide a proper 21st century learning environment for all students,” she said.
This plan also eliminates overcrowding at many of the elementary schools, she noted, and improves student safety due to the discontinuation of modular trailers, closets and hallways as classrooms
The academic advantages also extend to the new middle school, VanLeer said, which would have a school within a school design with grade-level wings.
“This type of design allows for cooperative learning and interdisciplinary teaming, and the classroom pods limit travel between classes,” she said.
“The sixth-graders also would benefit from an expanded curriculum and specialized instruction,” said VanLeer.
VanLeer said building a new middle school, rather than a new high school, which had previously been considered, is a better use of tax dollars.
“First, the price tag for a new high school today is anywhere from $65 to $85 million, which would require more than double what we’re asking, and it wouldn’t address any of the space needs at the elementary levels, technology or other issues,” she said.
Converting the current high school into a middle school also isn’t an efficient use of space, VanLeer said.
“When we looked at it we would have many vacant classrooms, several locker rooms not being used and shop space that would be sitting unused,” she said. “That building just doesn’t align well with a middle school setup and programming.
“There are safety concerns too with a building of that size and the supervision needed for middle school students,” she added.
If Question 2 passes, VanLeer said it would likely be the fall of 2016-17 before students would move into the new middle school.
“We do not have a preliminary design due to the high costs involved so we would probably spend June through December in the site design phase,” she said. “We could then be ready to go out for bids in January 2014 and hopefully begin construction in March of 2014. I anticipate construction to go until December 2015 or possibly a little longer.”
As soon as the new middle school is online, the current middle school could open as an elementary school simultaneously because renovations are minor.
Student capacity of the new middle school, estimated to be approximately 180,000 square feet, would be between 900 and 1,200 students.
Question 1 of the bond issue proposal seeks approval of a $9 million bond issue — which does not require a tax rate increase — for wireless infrastructure districtwide; construction of an early childhood center; HVAC upgrades at Augusta Elementary; and additional classrooms at Marthasville Elementary.