Although Decorah school staff does an excellent job of "making do" with existing PK-2 (prekindergarten through second-grade) facilities, the District still needs to look toward the future.
That was the message received during a presentation of future possibilities for the Decorah District's PK-2 grade levels. Prekindergarten is currently housed at West Side and kindergarten through second grade students attend John Cline. Nick Hildebrandt of StruXtures Architects, Waterloo, reviewed with the Board a number of options ranging from small remodels of both facilities to a brand new, combined PK-2 facility.
Hildebrandt provided the Board with a 44-page report, which encompassed a variety of planning considerations, including the educational process, curriculum, facility, operations, longevity, sustainability, future operations and avoiding unnecessary disruption of the educational process.
Hildebrandt's report explained, in formulating possible plans, his firm considered information gathered from shareholders meetings, visual reviews and walk-throughs of the facilities with District administrators and representatives of KCL Engineering of West Des Moines.
Hildebrandt noted the John Cline site is only 4.12 acres, which he said is "smaller than recommended" for an elementary of its size.
"The green space play areas are extremely small," said the report, adding, "The composition of the green space is long and narrow and does not facilitate the recreational play that may be needed."
The report added the John Cline gymnasium is undersized and over-utilized.
"Currently, the staff is making do with what they have to work with," said Hildebrandt.
The John Cline classrooms lack adequate space for students to store their bags and coats and the toilets are not handcapped accessible. The first-grade classrooms are also undersized.
StruXtures' report said with regard to West Side, the size of the school is adequate for the current student population.
"There is good green space surrounding the building and adequate play space at the rear," said the report.
Hildebrandt explained a short-term solution for upgrading both facilities, would be to address and update the buildings' heating and cooling systems.
"We would put in a cooling and heating system that would be of lower initial cost, knowing that in the very near future (less than 15 years) the buildings would undergo a major remodel to replace or remove the system," said the report.
Hildebrandt explained two different solutions under option 2 would be either updating each building in its current location or combining both of the centers by adding on to John Cline.
Each center currently has its own administration and media center.
"This is a solution that would at least get all of the administration (PK-2) on one site and eliminate the need for the doubling up of the media center, gym and common space," said the report, adding a downside would be a more complicated traffic situation at John Cline.
The architect also reviewed the possibility of building a new, stand-alone PK-2 building.
Noted advantages for this option include visioning of traffic flow, such as adequate parking, a separate bus lane and a unique, PreK entrance.
The report said a new site would allow for better green space around the building while getting it into a more communal setting where kids may have safer travel to and from school.
"This also gets the site away from the high school, allowing the old site to be utilized by the high school for more parking, athletics and green space."
The report also noted new construction is much more energy-efficient than even the best remodel.
Option 1, mechanical upgrades to both buildings, would run about $2.7 million.
Option 2A, comprehensive remodels and upgrades to both buildings, would cost approximately $9.1 million.
Option 2B, closing West Side and upgrading and expanding John Cline to include West Side classes, would cost around $8.85 million.
Option 3, new construction of a PK-2 center at a yet-to-be-determined site away from the current high school/John Cline area, could cost as much as $13.3 million.
Board President Melanie Tietz said the District will definitely take some time to consider the District's possible options.
"As we move forward in assessing our PK-2 facilities, we look forward to soliciting input from the community regarding our options. This fall we will develop a plan to obtain input from a wide variety of community members," said Tietz.