On June 13, John Castellan of TMP Architecture presented the proposed expansion and renovation of Lincoln Elementary School to the Finance Committee of the District 65 School Board. Board members at the meeting thought the design was “phenomenal” and made the school “a 21st Century building,” but they expressed concerns about the cost, the funding and equity with other schools.
The Proposed Design
Lincoln’s enrollment is projected to increase from 356 students this year to 484 by the 2015-16 school year, or by 128 students. The District projects the school will need up to six additional classrooms to accommodate the increased growth, assuming class sizes are 80% of the maximum class-size guidelines.
In a shift in how the District approaches major renovation projects at the schools, the District retained TMP Architecture in March to facilitate conversations and develop design options with the Lincoln School community. TMP, which has completed more than 5,000 school projects, uses an interactive and collaborative approach in working with school districts and engaging school community members. It says, “Our goal is to elevate the school to an environment that fosters education.”
The proposed design for Lincoln includes nine additional instructional spaces, a new two story entryway, the conversion of the auditorium into a multi-purpose dining area and presentation room, a renovated media center (library), improvements to the existing courtyard, a fire sprinkling system, and improved traffic-flow both within and outside the school.
When completed the school would have 24 “learning studios” (i.e., classrooms) – four for each grade level, a music studio that may be used for after school childcare, an art studio, a resource studio that may be used to provide intervention services or serve as a classroom, an area to provide services for children with autism, an intermediate CDC studio, a staff lounge, and areas where staff may work with small groups of students.
Mr. Castellan said the design was developed through three vision planning sessions with the Lincoln community, each of which was attended by 80-100 people.
The “preliminary cost opinion” of the work is $7.4 million, said Mr. Castellan. He identified six items with an estimated cost of $900,000, which could be bid separately and dropped to save costs.
Richard Rykhus said, “Conceptually, I think this is phenomenal.” He said, though, that he thought the Board should have clear standards in place that it could use in deciding whether to approve a building project to ensure there is consistency and equity among the schools. He suggested that some of the standards might include the amount of classroom space and the type of rooms each school should have, and whether schools should be accessible for students with a disability.
“I’m not looking for dollar for dollar equity because obviously each building is in a different current state,” Mr. Rykhus said. “What I am looking for is, as we make choices we have an objective set of criteria so we can say, ‘Are we getting this building up to our minimum – what we expect – and are there some of these recommended or nice to have elements?’”
Kim Weaver said she thought the Board assessed these factors in approving the building projects for Willard and Dewey schools, but said she supported adopting standards so there would be no question about it. She added the Board should consider the estimated life of a building when considering major building projects and suggested that air conditioning be considered.
Board president Katie Bailey said there has not been a vote on what is “basic” or what “we would like” for school buildings, but said the Board regarded life/safety work and safe entrances as required and had decided to include an art room at Willard and Dewey when making classroom additions. She said she supported setting standards, and suggested that the Committee explore whether a portion of the work at Lincoln could be funded through a referendum, rather than through the District’s Debt Extension Base, which is currently limited to about $34 million.
Jerome Summers said his big concern was the finances. He said the amount of funds the District could tap under its Debt Extension Base was limited, and he said he would like to explore whether the cost of a project could be funded through a referendum.
Mr. Castellan said if the project were delayed until a referendum could be scheduled next March or April, it would be too late to add space at Lincoln for the start of the 2012-13 school year.
Board Finance Committee Chair Andy Pigozzi said, “I think it would be unwise to put the brakes on this project right now.” He said there was an urgent need for additional space at that school, and urged that TMP be authorized to prepare design and construction drawings and obtain bids which the Board could review in October. He said the Board would not be committing to the project until the bids were approved.
Mr. Pigozzi added that analyzing equity among the school buildings is “very difficult to do with the buildings we have – in light of the years they were built – are totally different animals.” He said Lincoln School was looked at in a comprehensive way, and the proposed design adds needed space and makes the school “a 21st Century building.”
“I think we really should be looking ahead and using this opportunity as a model for the rest of our buildings.”
Eileen Budde suggested that the Board get the standards in place by October, the time the Board needs to reach a decision on the project in order to have additional classrooms ready for the 2012-13 school year. “It would be nice to start building our knowledge about what we think, what we value, our top priorities,” she said.
Mr. Castellan said, “Equity is always a concern. We deal with this all the time.” He suggested the focus should be equity on the “learning opportunities for kids.” He said he would put something together based on TMP’s experience.
The Finance Committee authorized Superintendent Hardy Murphy to negotiate with TMP to prepare design and construction documents for the project. It is anticipated that bids will be requested, and the Board asked to review the bids in October.