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The best options for Monticello’s aging school buildings could feature a combination of renovation and new construction, including the possibility of combining all three elementary schools into one facility.
That was the opinion of school consultants who delivered a preliminary report to Monticello School Board members Dec. 19.
“Your buildings still have good bones,” said Sam Johnson of BLDD Architects of Decatur. “But you have vibrant programs trying to teach tomorrow’s skills in yesterdays environments.”
The firm took 16 suggestions made at a public brain-storming session in October and performed a cost benefit analysis (CBA) for each. The ratings are a result of adding projected new construction costs with maintenance needs of existing structures for each option in the BLDD report. The architects then determined what they feel would deliver the best educational bang for the taxpayer buck.
In BLDD’s analysis, two options distanced themselves from the 16 suggestions that were analyzed, and both would include the closing of White Heath and Lincoln Elementary schools.Scenario “B-1” suggests construction of a 112,500 square foot elementary facility south of the current middle school to house K-5 students. Washington Elementary would then be converted for use by the high school, with MHS also undergoing extensive renovations and receiving a 20,000 square foot addition to the north.
Scenario “C-2” is similar in that it would close Lincoln and White Heath and combine all elementary students into one facility, but would place them in the existing 2003 middle school and build a new middle school addition to the south of Washington Elementary.
Construction costs of each option would be in the $65 million range, but another option that focuses mostly on a new elementary facility is estimated to cost $48 million.
There is even a cost for no new construction, which BLDD pegged at $26 million over the next three decades due to the age of district roofs, furnaces and other utilities. Superintendent Vic Zimmerman said that “cost of doing nothing” is “an important number.
“If we’re going to spend 26 million dollars over 30 years as it is, it would make pretty good sense to me to consider the idea of a new K-5 center for $48 million,” added Zimmerman.
Johnson said a portion of new construction costs include dollars to reconfigure existing facilities (except the middle school) to make them more conducive to 21st century teaching concepts, which includes more open spaces and students working together on projects.
It was emphasized that the report is only a jumping off point in compiling a master building plan for the district.
“Is there a time where you will cherry-pick portions of these options, and optimize the best scenario?” said board member Wendy Norvell.
“That is the next part of this,” responded Johnson, who said the process will continue with a narrowing down of options, doing a capacity analysis of those options, and refining cost projections.
School board president Jim Coleman wondered if the district should make sure there is enough room for possible consolidations down the road, since the state has pushed for larger districts in the past.
“As a relatively big school with a number of smaller schools around us, how is that accounted for? Because that would be different growth than ordinary models,” asked Coleman.
Johnson said one option would be for the district to maintain ownership of one of the closed elementary facilities in case it is needed in the future.
Zimmerman felt public meetings to gain additional input would also be helpful. He anticipates the board will schedule a meeting similar to this past fall’s three facilities planning sessions so that results of the preliminary study can be shared. Information will also be posted on www.sages.us.
The original portions of four of Monticello’s five school buildings were built between 1894 and 1923, including Washington (1894), Lincoln (1911), the high school (1921), and White Heath (1923). The middle school was constructed in 1913.
Johnson and fellow BLDD architect John Whitlock also reviewed four other options they felt earned a high enough rating to merit discussion. All included construction of a combined elementary school building.
Preliminary cost estimates for the 16 options in the study range from just under $26 million for no new construction to $84 million for a plan that would build a new high school, convert Lincoln into an alternative school and renovate Washington Elementary to house grades K-5.