USD 421 voters could decide $14 million bond issue by end of school year

LYNDON – USD 421 voters could decide by the end of June whether to build $14.1 million of new school facilities, depending on the outcome of a special board of education meeting scheduled for next week.

During Wednesday’s regular board meeting, the USD 421 Board of Education met with Dave Emig, an architect hired to develop plans for a facilities project. Emig reviewed plans he had developed since Dec. 18 when he had met with the facilities focus committee.

Emig explained he had come up with concepts 9 and 9.1, using ideas conveyed from the focus committee about a previous concept with an estimated price tag of $12.2 million. Concepts 9 and 9.1 were estimated at $10.8 million and $11.2 million respectively.

The new concepts configured the layout of three monolithic domes that include classrooms and a multi-purpose gymnasium. The design recommended by the committee was made up of five domes added to Lyndon High School. Emig later explained the new design had larger domes and provided more efficient use of space, with the new design resulting in about 10,000 square feet less than the size of current facilities.

All of the plans would demolish the original high school and abandon the current elementary and middle school facilities except for the LEMS gymnasium and adjoining classrooms that would be used as a district office.

Emig said all layout designs were preliminary and concepts would need to be finalized with administrators and staff if a bond issue was approved by voters.

The new design showed a gymnasium that also included a kitchen and storage, and would be used as a lunchroom and auditorium.

“The primary use is a lunchroom, secondary is PE or a gym, third is an auditorium,” Emig said.

The board discussed the logistics of using the multipurpose room for physical education classes and a cafeteria.

“Normally schools just don’t schedule PE during that time (lunch time),” Emig said, but board members agreed there could be scheduling conflicts.

USD 421 Board Member David Brecheisen inquired whether the concept included any extra space if the student body grew or curriculum was added.

“We have not built in any growth,” Emig said. “We designed for what you have now.”

USD 421 Superintendent Brian Spencer noted the school population had been at its highest in 1994 with about 475 students; currently it is 432.

Emig said the No. 9 concepts used the largest domes possible to fit setback requirements of the available space north of the existing school. The plan also adds a conventionally constructed block of six classrooms on the northeast side of the high school.

USD 421 Board Member Lori Sturdy questioned the cost of adding another dome to the project.

“I’m just feeling like this is kind of small,” Sturdy said.

Eric Stallbaumer, with construction management company AHRS, said the cost of adding another dome similar to those proposed in concept 9 would be around $2.5 million.

USD 421 Board President Bob Knoernschild said he liked a previous plan that placed “the gyms across from each other” and suggested constructing a larger commons area, which could be used as the cafeteria, between the current gymnasium and proposed multipurpose room, “rather than have the lunchroom in the multipurpose room.”

“I like the idea of the gym and cafeteria being separate,” agreed Lyndon Elementary-Middle School Principal Jennifer Hamlet, who also suggested one of the domes could be used primarily for fine arts.

“Are we better off getting [the cost] down or making it bigger so we’re more comfortable?” Spencer asked.

“This will help the community grow by doing this,” said USD 421 Board Member Melissa Herdman. “If we ask for a little bit more for the students to have a better educational experience, that’s what we need to do.”

USD 421 Board Member Lisa Baker questioned whether the board was rushing the project.

“Are we throwing something together?” Baker asked. “Are we going to have enough time to explain what we’re trying to do?”

After further discussion of adding curriculum and needing space for it, Sturdy said, “I think we need another dome. We need to guarantee to the public we are going to add something.”

Suggesting a vo-ag program, she said, “I want to be able to say we’re going to add this program if we do this (add more space).”

Knoernschild asked if board members supported constructing another dome. Brecheisen agreed, “Yes, add another dome and try to push it through.”

Emig warned against adding too much to the project without a definite plan on how the additional space would be used.

“I’d be concerned about building space that you don’t have an identified use for today and don’t have identified for tomorrow,” Emig said. “People are going to want to know you have a use for every square foot of space you build. You have to be able to look them in the eye and justify every square foot of space.”

Saying he would design the facilities according to the board’s ideas, Emig noted board members didn’t yet have a final plan and had presented more new ideas to be incorporated into the project.

“Maybe you should have started last spring instead of last fall,” he said.

It was noted the main difference between concepts 9 and 9.1 was the location of a practice football field and about $400,000. Emig explained that adding facilities north of the existing school would close Seventh Street and also reduce the available area of the current practice football field; the practice field of 120 yards long would not fit the space. Concept 9.1 included the cost for demolishing the elementary school and constructing a new practice field on the west side of the elementary school grounds.

Knoernschild said the old elementary school would need to be demolished regardless of which project was chosen.

“We’re not going to use it and we need to get rid of it,” Knoernschild said. “That building needs to go away while we’re doing this.”

He said if the building is not demolished it would likely fall on someone and cause a lawsuit for the school district.

The No. 9 concepts showed two main entrances – one for the high school and one for the elementary and middle schools. The board discussed the location of two principal’s offices that were placed together in those concepts. Noting that security was one of reasons for the board planned the facilities project, and placing principals’ offices near entrances was one idea for improving security, the board asked Emig to consider that in the redesign.

The board also discussed a plan to build combination locker rooms and storm shelter at Jones Park near  the football field. The 2,120 square feet building would add about $400,000 to the project, and would be constructed to serve two football teams of 45 members each, or hold around 350 people (six square feet per person) in the event of a storm.

Commenting on discussion at the facilities focus committee meetings, Emig said he hadn’t “picked up on momentum for putting something down at Jones Field.”

Spencer said a plan to construct a storm shelter at Jones Park was “part of what started this process. The board needs to get that in there.”

Emig agreed to meet with the Hamlet and Lyndon High School Principal Brad Marcotte the next day to discuss the plans, then draft plans to include the board’s and principals’ additions and suggestions, and present them during a special meeting set for 6 p.m. Jan. 16. If the board approves the plans at that meeting, they will begin the process for calling a bond election that could be held in May or June.

Board member resigns

Absent from the Jan. 8 meeting was board member Glenda Bronson, who submitted her resignation from the board shortly before the meeting, according to Spencer. The board accepted Bronson’s resignation and made plans to begin a search for a replacement. Bronson, who had been on the board since 2007, said in the resignation that her employment had kept her from attending meetings. Her term in USD 421 Position 1A was set to expire in 2015.

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