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.
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