NEW ULM - The pending expiration of the lease on modular classrooms, a legislative push for the expansion of pre-school education, and the unclear future of the former middle school are some key factors that will affect long-range facility thinking in District 88, according to a report by Superintendent Harold Remme to the School Board.
The report, entitled "Something to Think About," provides a wide-ranging, strategically-focused evaluation of facility needs, factors and possibilities, some of which are admittedly theoretical at this stage.
Remme reminded the board that the lease on six modular classrooms, now used for math classes at the High School, expires at the end of this year.
The lease is $36,700 annually, and the School Board needs to decide whether to terminate or renew the lease, and, if the lease is renewed, for how long.
Another factor that will play into future decisions, Remme said, is the probable expansion of pre-school programming by legislative action, which would translate into an increasing need for space.
He then addressed the potential future of the former middle school, which closed for regular classes a few years ago but continues to provide auditorium and office space for the district.
The district attempted to sell the building through a request-for-bids process.
The highest bidder, Eagle Development, "disengaged" from the negotiation process at the end of last December, but left the door open for future talks.
The board could return to a possible sale arrangement with the group, or have a more serious discussion with NUACT, a local actors group which had also shown interest in the building, noted Remme. The board could also open a new request-for-bids process, to try again to sell the building.
Alternately, the district could develop a plan to remodel the facility itself, creating a combination school office/community center, said Remme.
He acknowledged that such an option is "more of a dream" than real short-term possibility, and would likely require a form of bonding. Similar ideas have been discussed but found cost-prohibitive in the past.
Nevertheless, Remme noted it is in theory possible to:
Renovate and upgrade the auditorium area, with new seating, and dedicate the gym area to drama and the lower level to drama storage;
Demolish the 1955 and 1938 additions and replace them with two gymnasium spaces, one dedicated to gymnastics;
Demolish the boardroom/little gym/dungeon space and replace with a new boardroom at ground level;
Renovate the lower level of the 1915 section into administrative offices;
Renovate the second and third floors of the 1915 building into rental spaces for non-profits;
If possible, maintain the lower level shop spaces for community/senior recreation needs; and
Create meeting/staff training spaces and community-use spaces at ground level.
Lower-level spaces could be created to serve Community Education or post-secondary education options (PSEO), added Remme. Early childhood and family education classes could be held in the created classrooms.
The possibility also exists for spaces to be created for a Level 5 special education center to serve students from area schools, he added. (Level 5 is a clinical setting for students with severe emotional disorders with a history of aggressive or violent behaviors; it is not a service offered at the River Bend Educational District.)
Or, the former school could be demolished and the property sold to a developer, noted Remme.
South Payne site
The board could then request voter approval for a main-campus renovation, by adding a gymnasium and a theater arts space into the area now occupied by the modular units and adding a student commons area in the space now used for entry into the high school.
The commons area would also serve as a cafeteria and be available for community use functions, all at the ground level.
This option consolidates all school functions in two sites, adding to efficiency of staff use, energy functions, busing, supervision, etc., said Remme.
Remme also suggested that the board could potentially discontinue the modular lease and shift grade levels between Jefferson and Washington Schools in different possible ways:
Move upper-grade levels to Jefferson to create a grade 4-12 complex at the main campus;
Create a main campus site which might find grades 3-6, 4-6 or 4-7 in the Jefferson building;
Make Washington School into a grade pre-K-3 or grade pre-K-4 school;
Create four classrooms at the annex for high school use;
Move all pre-school, Kids Connection (the district's after-school and summer care program) and Head Start into one site (probably Washington);
In general, re-assign classroom and special area spaces in all buildings to make a more efficient use of each building.
(Switching grades between Jefferson and Washington would incur costs associated with changing casework and restroom heights, which are set to specific elementary student heights, according to Facilities Director Scott Hogen.)
Any and all of these options are expensive, noted Remme.
They would call for using creative financing to obtain maximum space utilization (alternative facility levy/bonding, capital facility bonding, or a lease levy or lease purchase).
Each and every finance option would require a close working relationship with a financial consultant. Each modification would require development of architectural plans or engineering designs. The options would require school board approval, and tax impact needs to be carefully considered, cautioned Remme.
In his report, Remme also listed the following, some of them more immediate, needs:
Parking lots renewal at the main campus on South Payne
Replacement of the underground water system at the main campus (football and practice field, Jefferson fields) and improving the grass area with seed/fertilizer.
Completion of the Jefferson School playground matting system
Fully developing the football site for better game experiences
Additional classroom space (install floor over the weight room)
One additional gym space for physical education
Repair or disengage mag-lock system
Remodel entry area to improve security
Relocate office space to improve security at entry level
Additional gym space