Kingsland’s school board met with administrators last Wednesday evening for a facility study session. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->
Kingsland’s school board met with administrators last Wednesday evening for a facility study session. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE

"There's no easy answer."

Several members of Kingsland's school board and administration echoed that statement last Wednesday evening as they reviewed facility options during a work session scheduled to allow them to further discuss those options.

Kingsland School Board Chairman Doug Plaehn opened the study session by asserting that no formal decisions have been made to change any building uses at this point in time. The board did determine a recommendation through a facility committee's decision in October that it would like to close the Wykoff building and make improvements to the Spring Valley site.

"One thing I'd like to clarify," stated Plaehn. "There was a motion made at the October meeting that was the deciding facility committee motion to go to one site, but in order to make a decision to close the Wykoff building, we have to have a referendum."

After reviewing a presentation outlining the facility needs in the district, the board discussed setting a direction, since the committee never chose a final option, and getting community involvement, possibly through a mailed survey.

To start the meeting, Plaehn shared a presentation that outlined the needs at each building. At the high school and elementary building, the presentation listed that "pre-kindergarten and Community Education programs are continuing to grow, and with the increasing enrollments in the elementary school, they are being squeezed for space from both ends."

Elementary school classroom needs were noted in regard to enrollment increases. "There is immediate need for additional classroom space which could become flex space if this increase is not sustainable. Another option is to move the elementary school to Wykoff and the middle school to Spring Valley. Project Lead the Way (PLTW) and advanced placement space needs...the introduction of project-based learning and technology has changed the way teaching and learning happen. With the continued evolution of our curriculum, the high school is looking for more diverse learning spaces for the support of these popular and successful programs."

Physical education space needs are of concern, the presentation cited, as "the cafeteria was originally constructed as a physical education space (50 percent utilization). However, with breakfast service, the space is no longer used for PE, leaving a big space crunch for the single gym space. There is a shortage of space for storage around the cafeteria. Currently, building maintenance will move their supplies wherever they can find space. This also impacts the use of the cafeteria."

Locker rooms were also included in high school renovations, as "the vision of referendums past was to move the locker rooms from the lower level to the main level, where they would be closer to the athletic fields and courts. This would improve supervision and maintenance." Repairs include ventilation and air handling units, a new clock system and building controls for "over $482,539."

Program and operational challenges shared regarding the Wykoff building included "project and curriculum continuity...there is currently a lack of continuity in program delivery K-12 because of the disjointed movement of students pre-K-3, 4-6 and 7-12. Staff movement and sharing...there is expense and lack of access of equipment for programs because of the distance between buildings. Both are costs to the district and to students. There is also an expense and lack of access to equipment of or for the specialists and administration. Again, both are costs to the district and students. There are also additional costs for delivering food service and technology. If there are necessary infrastructure needs for technology, the costs are often doubled for the hardware and the labor due to the two locations." Repairs to the building include mechanical and electrical upgrades, roofing, parking lot improvements, new fire alarm system and hazardous materials removal for an estimated cost of $6.52 million.

The board has examined the possibilities of making the repairs at the Wykoff site and taking care of deferred maintenance repairs at the Spring Valley site, and also given consideration to closing the Wykoff site and making improvements to the Spring Valley site, thereby relocating the fourth through sixth graders to the Spring Valley site, resulting in a pre-K through 12th grade facility that could cost between $12 million and $20 million, depending on what amenities the district chooses to include. The facility option most favored by board members throughout the process includes the addition of educational space through the renovation and repurposing of existing classrooms, plus the addition of a field house and an auditorium, which would update technological capabilities, replace two gymnasiums included in the closure of the Wykoff site and expand community use of the school.

Kingsland principals James Hecimovich and Chris Priebe were in attendance to lend their perspectives on the matter, relating that though they've heard suggestions from the community to relocate one elementary grade to another site to make room for the upcoming or lower grade that has more or fewer students; it is teacher licensure that determines where a grade can be placed because the district isn't going to hire a teacher whose licensure is limited to one subject and few grades and be able to retain that teacher for long.

Elementary and middle school principal Priebe observed that there are larger classes coming up - all of them in need of a third section - and that while unused classroom space at the middle school in Wykoff might be a possibility, students lose instruction time while being bused from one site to the other.

"When we move to three sections from kindergarten through third grade next year, we don't have any space," said Priebe. "Next year, there are three sections all the way through, and since we don't have space, we end up uprooting people."

He acknowledged that while enrollment has been growing and causing the elementary to outgrow its classroom wing, there is the possibility that open enrollment may cause some students who live on the district's boundaries to leave. However, "we're trying to have them come to Kingsland, where we have a strong preschool program and more."

Hecimovich added that "people are quick to say that the middle school should be a fourth through eighth grade facility, but we don't have as much flexibility with licensure. We can't logistically do that. When we hire someone, we look for a more robust experience because we want to save people their jobs and do what's good for the students as well."

Board member Gwen Howard inquired as to whether the facility option the board favors could be done without the addition of an auditorium, even though it features a new, separate-entrance school-age child care suite that would allow the rest of the high school and elementary building to be closed after 6 p.m., and the new field house.

"I've heard discussion that people wonder if we need a field house and an auditorium. It's a great idea, but what if we downsize?" she asked.

Board member Steve Tart spoke, saying, "That's putting $6 million into an auditorium. When we're talking about $10 million to $12 million, that's a lot of money."

Plaehn said, "We could pull off the auditorium."

Tart countered, "It's $2 million to $3 million to get our high school stage back? Just pull off the Plexi-glass and we've got it back."

Howard interjected, "That amount includes catwalks and other things."

Tart questioned the timing of the proposed facility referendum, saying, "If we had the last referendum paid, but this would be a double-whammy."

Board member Kristin Beck said, "We have to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers. I don't know if right now is the time to ask for $20 million."

Tart posited, "Can we brainstorm repairs at Wykoff that can be done out of our budget over time?"

Plaehn replied, "There are probably pieces that we can do. If we tear into the roof, we either tear it off and do the total roof, but then if we've got the roof off, we probably should repair the heating and ventilation, and then we guess the state would say, 'What other projects are you doing?' I've thought about that numerous times."

Tart said, "I wasn't here five years ago when they did the school study, but if the building was good five years ago, is it still good now?"

Plaehn commented, "I think that it's a structurally sound building. I'm not talking about building new walls."

Business manager Todd Lechtenberg informed the board that the repairs could be done but would "come at the expense of other projects."

Plaehn stated, "We need to set a direction. We don't have a direction yet, because the committee never landed on a recommendation."

Howard asked if the board would be willing to "take this to ground zero" and start over again with a new facility committee that includes administration, tenured staff, community members from both towns and rural, and also those from the business community.

Tart noted, "I think if we put a nice plan together...but I don't know if it's a timing thing for me."

Audience member Jerry Cleveland spoke up, sharing that he felt that the residents of the Kingsland community "felt blindsided" during the previous facility referendum attempts because "the board came forward with plans drawn up and an amount needed," and that if more people were to be asked their opinions, success might be found.

The other member of the audience, Melissa (Howard) Messner, concurred with Cleveland and board member Howard. "I agree with Gwen. I feel that you should bring it forward to the community so that they can see it all. I think there's a lot of negativity, but if people can sit down and listen, they might see what you have to say."

Tart suggested a community survey, and the board agreed that conducting one by mail might prove useful, so plans to do so were tentatively set in motion before the board ended the study session for the evening.

Plaehn and the rest of the board hoped to bring more discussion to the February and March regular board meetings, which the public is welcome to attend at the Kingsland High School conference room. For more information, call (507) 346-7276 or log onto the Kingsland website at www.kingsland.k12.mn.us.