Community meeting draws school building perspectives

Employees with OPN Architects and MCSD Superintendent Brian Jaeger fielded questions and comments from the audience during the Jan. 31 community meeting. The event focused on the school facility needs. Standing is Superintendent Jaeger. Seated from left are Vicki Hyland, Roger Worm, Carly Weber, and Susan Bowersox, all of OPN Architects. (Photos by Kim Brooks)

Joe Cruise, a former MCSD bus driver, commented that if a plan for a new school was affordable enough, the community would come together and make it happen.

Monticello elementary teacher Abby Fagan addressed the panel during the Jan. 31 community meeting saying she liked the concept of a central campus with all of the elementary students under one roof.
Pete Temple
Express Associate Editor

     About 120 people attended, and many of them spoke, during a community meeting with OPN Architects regarding Monticello Community School District facilities.

     It was a chance for citizens to provide feedback to OPN, the firm hired in November to oversee a possible bond issue election. The meeting was held Wednesday, Jan. 31 in the Monticello High School Auditorium.

     A total of 18 people spoke at the meeting, offering a variety of thoughts and questions from a variety of perspectives.

     Superintendent Brian Jaeger began the meeting by giving a brief history of the current round of facility discussions, including that a facilities committee was formed, and that OPN Architects were hired by the district in November.

     “We are trying to look at, from many different perspectives, what the needs of our community are in terms of school facilities,” Jaeger said.

     “I think we’re at a point where we’ve reached a critical mass. We really have to make some tough decisions on school facilities. Our facilities are reaching a point where it would be irresponsible just to kick the can down the road to the next generation.”

     Jaeger then opened the floor to anyone willing to walk up to the microphone and speak.

     A key element in this year’s discussion, as it was during the last bond issue election in 2014, is whether to renovate current buildings or build new ones.

     Several people spoke to that question, including Tom Yeoman, who said renovation should be an option.

     “When the last bond issue didn’t pass, I got a lot of comments from graduates of Monticello High School over the last 50 years,” Yeoman said. “And their comments were, ‘We don’t want the middle school to be torn down.’

     “That building is the most structurally sound building in the district. It can be renovated. Don’t overlook that as an option.”

     Others felt that the current buildings have aged too much, and that the district would be better served with new buildings.

     “Teaching and learning have changed so much,” said Johnny Russ, a parent of children in the district. “I think we have some of the best (teachers and staff members) around, but how much of a handcuff are we putting on them by sticking them in the schools that we have?”

     Carpenter Elementary teacher Abby Fagan added:

     “My biggest fear is that if we don’t do something now, we aren’t going to be able to afford to build a new building in the upcoming years,” Fagan said.

     “At what point do we become irresponsible as a school district?” Kellie Arduser said. “Are we opening ourselves up to major lawsuits, or things that we can’t come back from, like the loss of a child, because our facilities weren’t the way they should be, because we were too focused on preserving a building that is too old to protect our children?”

     The question of what to build also arose.

     “I really love the idea of creating a central campus so we can have all of our elementary students in one building, and possibly just adding a junior high to the high school,” Fagan said.

     Dianne Haag, who worked in the school district for 37 years, offered a different perspective.

     “I was around when we worked really hard to separate the middle school and high school, and I think that was a big benefit. I would hate to see them come together again,” Haag said.

     Monticello Mayor Brian Wolken asked whether students of varying grades could go to school in the same building but not cross paths, such as the “pod” setup that exists in the North Linn district.

     “Absolutely,” said Vicki Hyland, construction administrator for OPN. “You can do schools within schools, where those kids don’t cross paths.”

     Others offered more general comments.

     “I was completely against the last bond issue,” said Renee Adams, who is a member of the current facilities committee.

     Adams said she has changed her mind after being part of the new group, and speaking with Superintendent Jaeger.

     “I would like everybody to be open-minded. Let’s put the past behind us, and start fresh with this new group,” she said.

     “I see two fairly divided groups within this school district,” said Jared Lasley, who was a member of the first class to graduate from current high school building, “the progressive group that wants to tear everything down and build new, and then we have the preservation group.

     “My question to you is, in the short amount of time you have been involved in this, what are some of your concerns, things that could hinder a remodel vs. advantage to go to new construction?”

     OPN associate Susan Bowersox said there are two main factors to look at: the cost to meet fire safety and code compliance regulations, and how education happens in the building.

     “We want to make sure we’re thinking about both of those fronts so we can give students the best opportunity possible,” Bowersox said.

     Dean Cox said he believes shortcuts were taken in order to get the last bond issue passed.

     “Whatever you do, we need to make sure we don’t take shortcuts, that what we have is a good, sound plan,” Cox said.

     Joe Cruise offered that a school is one of the first things families look at when families are looking for a place to live.

     “I’m not close enough to know what we really need,” Cruise said. “If we get something that’s affordable, I think the community will pull together and pass it.”

     Pam Goodyear suggested the architects balance safety of a new building with accessibility. Amanda Brenneman suggested the architects and facilities committee speak with people who voted against the last bond issue. Yeoman wondered whether public partnerships could help with fundraising, such as what happened with Monticello’s city hall and library. Chad Kromminga suggested a daycare/preschool could accompany a new school building, which he said would bring people to the community.

     Both Haag and Cox suggested exploring the option of building a new high school, and turning the current one into a middle school.

     The topic of what to do with the current buildings also arose. Both Hyland and Roger Worm of OPN said they have seen former school buildings repurposed in other communities.

     “I don’t think your existing buildings are a lost cause,” said Worm, the OPN principal.

     Jaeger agreed: “What to do with the old buildings has to be part of the plan.”

     The superintendent wrapped up the meeting by encouraging citizens to email him with questions and suggestions. The school district website has a special link for facility questions.

     “We really need this to be a community-driven project. This is not a top-down type of project; this is a community effort,” Jaeger said.


More feedback sought by OPN, committee

     The Monticello Facilities Committee and OPN Architects were able to gather plenty of opinions about the future of Monticello school buildings as a result of the Jan. 31 community meeting.

     Now, they want more.

     The Facilities Committee held its own meeting immediately after the community meeting. The committee reviewed the meeting that had just taken place, and then began to determine next steps.

     “We were really happy with how many people we had there (at the community meeting),” Monticello schools Superintendent Brian Jaeger said, “but I wish we would have had a few more people come down and speak.”

     OPN and the committee plan to organize another community meeting, possibly in late February, but with a different format.

     That meeting, Jaeger said, will likely be held at Monticello Middle School, and include a tour of the building. Participants would then break into small focus groups to discuss facility ideas, and the groups would then report to the full group at the end.

     “You want to get as much as you can from the community,” Jaeger said. “You want to come up with a bond people are going to get behind.”

     Susan Bowersox, an associate at OPN, spoke at the facilities committee meeting about preliminary findings of a building assessment OPN is working on.

     Many of the ADA issues that have been brought up in the past – middle school stairwells, handicapped-accessibility at Carpenter School, etc. were brought up again.

     Another was the classroom sizes at the middle school. Bowersox said today’s average middle school room size is 900 square feet; at MMS, it’s 600 square feet.

     OPN will also be present at the school board work session on March 7, Jaeger said, when the architects will be further along in assessing the costs of repairing/remodeling current school buildings vs. building new.

     “We should be farther down the road by then,” Jaeger said.

 – Pete Temple


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