257 facilities committee considers site plans



February 21, 2018 - 12:00 AM

A new elementary school for kindergarten up through fifth grade appeared the most popular of options explored Monday night by members of a steering committee reviewing Iola schools.
With a focus solely on how elementary education can best be provided, members reviewed several site plans presented by architects with Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey of Wichita.
Architects asked members to think in broad strokes about the pros and cons of renovation or new construction and possible outcomes, realizing all along the night’s conversations may come to naught.
Because all of Iola’s schools need at the very least extensive renovations, Stacey Fager, superintendent of USD 257 schools, said, “All of this is going to be a compromise. I think we realize we can’t build three brand new facilities, elementary, middle school or high school. So it’s going to have to be a compromise for what is most important.
“I feel like our teachers could do some outstanding things if they had things like common meeting and learning spaces. I see great potential in a lot of things we could do, whether it’s at the elementary, middle school or high school.
“And I love the excitement of you people saying you want to do something, and now,” as he emphatically thumped the table.
As the evening progressed, it became clear that none of the elementaries — Lincoln, Jefferson, or McKinley — adequately meet the five priorities gleaned from teachers and administrators, which are:
1. Increased flexibility of spaces and technology use;
2. A gym separate from the cafeteria;
3. A pod concept where grade levels surround a common shared space;
4. The library as the hub of the school, and
5. Ample playground space as well as separate parking and drop-off areas for parents and buses.

SEVERAL things appeared to stand in the way of renovating existing schools, including the need to expand their footprint. To do so would require acquiring private homes in neighboring areas; eight homes surrounding Lincoln; 12 surrounding Jefferson, if the schools were designed to accommodate grades kindergarten through fifth grade, or a total of 750 students in 33 classrooms.
Architects did not consider McKinley as a possible site for an entire elementary complex because its needed repairs are so extensive and the majority of Iola’s population lies to the north of U.S. 54.
No one welcomed the idea of eminent domain.
Corey Schinstock, assistant city administrator, said, “In town, we’re all complaining about there not being enough houses. But if you take away eight houses, in the case of Lincoln, you’re depleting our housing stock.
“As a parent, it wouldn’t bother me a bit to drive another half-mile to drop my kids off at school,” Schinstock said, referring to a possible 18-acre site plan just north of Allen Community College.
Ryan Sparks said he would have a hard time taking someone’s home away from them and also favored the site north of ACC.
 “We just built 60 new homes in the last 10 years within walking distance of that site. The rail trails are right by it, Melody Acres is to the east, the homes on Cottonwood are close. But the thing I like best is that we’re not having to tear down someone’s house.”

AS THE NIGHT progressed others ideas surfaced, including building an elementary school more to the center of town and positioning the high school north of the college.
Another option posited by architects is to close McKinley and renovate Lincoln and Jefferson to accommodate kindergarten to second grade in one school and grades three to five in the other.
Less land would be needed for this scenario and it would cost about the same as putting all the students at one site.
Ballpark figures for construction-only put an entire new school for K-5 at almost $23 million; renovation for K-5 at Lincoln, $16.4 million, and Jefferson, $18 million, or renovating the two elementaries at almost $19 million.
None of the prices reflect the cost of acquiring land or extending utilities.
The plans also incorporate returning the fifth grade to the elementary school. Currently, fifth grade is in the middle school, but a consensus among parents was that those youngsters are better suited to the elementary setting.
The idea of moving sixth grade out of the middle school was also floated in part to create more space in the middle school for seventh- and eighth-graders.
Terry Lower, a phys ed instructor at IMS opined, “I think sixth-graders and ninth-graders should be in buildings all to themselves,” to which the crowd erupted in laughter.
If a new attendance center were to be built, plans included individual wings to keep the grades more separate.

SAVANNAH Flory voiced support for keeping the schools in the middle of town, saying, “The more in town (a school) is, the fewer drop-offs there will be because they will be more walkable.”
A persistent problem at each of the schools is navigating traffic with cars and school buses at the beginning and end of the school day.
As a mother of three, Kristin Stotler was in favor of an all-in-one attendance center.
“I have a second-grade son, a fifth-grade daughter and one in daycare. It’s kind of a mess dropping off kids in three different locations and getting to work by 8. With all the traffic and different stops it can be chaotic.”
Chuck Apt wondered if the plans presented were designed to accommodate more students than can be expected. Plans call for class sizes to average 125 per grade, not far off the mark for current enrollment in Iola’s elementaries. The freshman class has 120 students, but the senior class hovers around 80.
“I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but we’ve had declining enrollment for years. I’m trying to be realistic. If we’re over-designing, you’re talking about millions of dollars,” Apt said.
Sid Fleming, city administrator, however, wondered if building new would not help attract parents to send their children to Iola schools. “I’ve always heard that you see an increase in attendance with new schools. Is that not something we would see here?” Fleming asked.
Dan Willis, president of the board of education, recalled that Steve Parsons, former superintendent at Chanute, said their district witnessed an uptick in student enrollment when new schools were built there, in part by regaining students who had decided to attend schools in neighboring communities.
“Now they are bursting at the seams and considering a bond issue to add another elementary,” he said.
Fager added that Chanute’s new buildings created unexpected efficiencies.
“They knew going from five elementaries to one there would be efficiencies, but not to the extent realized. It was a lot more than they anticipated,” he said.
Plans in 2014 showed $700,000 in utilities savings with one elementary. It’s a difference of 33 percent in square footage if one elementary building were to replace the current three buildings.
Such a savings would mean “you can start doing real things for your community, your teachers, your students and your curriculum,” Fager said. 
Not having to put money toward constant repairs would also free up funds for teachers’ salaries, Fager said, noting starting salaries in Iola are $5,000 behind those for those in Chanute.
Willis added, “There’s a lot of our kids who go to Humboldt,” in part because of the condition of Iola schools.
Lower maintained the philosophy, “If we build it, they will come. If we build new schools, industry will also come.”
Lower said he also viewed a new attendance center for all elementary grades as being more fair.
“That is the concept I would want for my children, is to have everyone under one roof, knowing my child is going to have the same opportunities as your child as opposed to if they were in a different building. You’re also going to save money on utilities, food service and transportation,” with one, as opposed to three, separate elementaries.

IN LIGHT of the recent school shooting in Florida, Apt said he thought one attendance center would be a safer environment for students.
Members voiced the opinion that one of the reasons the bond issue in 2014 failed was that it positioned an all-inclusive school campus to the north of town just outside city limits.
Two locations submitted for a new elementary school were 18 acres just north of ACC and 16 acres in the northwest corner of Cedarbrook golf course.
Flory asked what was the smallest site possible.
“Twenty acres is ideal, but you can get by with 10-14 acres,” for a single-story school, said architect Shannon Bohm. “It’s not ideal to have a second story for elementary grades. Pre-K up through second grades cannot have classes on a second level,” she said. “So that’s limiting.
“In our experience, it’s not ideal for little kids to maneuver stairs or to have their teachers help them up and down stairs.”
As the evening progressed, members took note of the cost of duplicating spaces such as gymnasiums and cafeterias as well as that of higher utilities if more buildings were maintained. “We’re trying to reduce rooftops here,” the architect said.
Because teaching methods have changed, so too have their learning environments, administrators noted. Instead of rows of chairs facing a chalkboard, newer designs include adaptable spaces with clusters of desks and tables outfitted with technology.
Iola’s current schools allow for only so much change, Bohm said. “We could knock out a wall or two to create more space, and that’s if they are not load-bearing,” she said. “But no, you’re not going to be able to accommodate the pod-concept,” now used in the elementary schools in Garnett and Chanute.

A TOUR of Lincoln Elementary pointed out several problems especially for students with special needs. The two-story building has no elevator, the bathrooms lack handicap stalls and for those who require physical or occupational therapy they must make their way to a trailer positioned in the playground.
“No one with special needs would be happy with our schools,” Lower said. “They used to be with other students in the classroom. Today, they’re in a closet.”
Indeed, space demands have forced schools to convert former closets into small learning and activity spaces for special needs students.
Another challenge for the elementaries is that their gymnasiums also serve as cafeterias, limiting the use of the gym for physical education.
Plans for the middle school and high school will be considered at the committee’s next meeting, sometime in late March.  


PHOTO: Lincoln Elementary School Principal Andy Gottlob, right, leads a tour of his school for a facilities committee meeting Monday. Among the participants was Iola Assistant City Administrator Corey Schinstock. REGISTER/SUSAN LYNN