Time to decide: School Board will vote on facilities project Thursday

Monday meeting provides more details


Mary Bailey
Community Editor

How to get junior high students a performance stage was a major topic at Monday’s School Board work session. It was the group’s final meeting before members are expected to vote Thursday, Dec. 5, on whether to ask voters next year to support a levy for school facilities.

The plan calls for moving all seventh- and eighth-graders to Century Junior High, which has no stage or bleachers. The cafeteria is used for arts performances.

Elementary schools in the district do have a stage in the gym, and Southwest Junior High has one in the lunchroom. Southwest would become the site of programs currently housed in the Central Learning Center, which would no longer be used.

A proposed addition on the south end of Century  includes a new aquatic center, weight room and “multi-purpose room” with bleachers. The multipurpose room is a gym, needed to accommodate additional students in physical education classes.

But some School Board members would like Century to have a performing arts center, with a stage, good acoustics and comfortable seats.

“I’m a big fan of the music performances and plays,” Board President Rob Raphael said. “Performing in a gym or cafeteria is not as good as in an auditorium.”

Adding a performing arts center that would hold an audience of 200 would add $1.2 million to $1.5 million to the total cost. It would be located on the south end and share the same lobby as the new pool and gym.

Board Member Gail Theisen said she has attended many concerts and plays in the Century cafeteria. Most are short, 45 minutes to an hour, she said, and could be held in the gym.

“I feel ($1.2 million) is a lot of money, kind of a luxury for seventh and eighth grade.”

Adding a simple stage in the gym could be done for less than $500,000 if it had no sound booth or theatrical lighting, an architect said. A 40-by-70-feet stage would be big enough for band and orchestra concerts.

At the high school, the performing arts auditorium probably will not get more “fly space” above the stage.

Making the ceiling 50 feet high, enough to raise curtains and backdrops straight up, would require substantial changes to the surrounding roofs and cost about $2.6 million.

At the Nov. 21 board meeting, Business Director Larry Martini presented costs to tear down the Central Learning Center and a possible selling price of the cleared land.

The deconstruction was estimated to cost more than the land would bring.

The board asked if the buyer could do the tear-down and whether the building has any value, for example, for use by a charter school.

Martini said demolishing could be done by the buyer, but a new owner would spend less putting up a new three-story stick-built building than rehabilitating the current structure. By Thursday the board will have an approximate selling price of the site with the building intact.

One complication with Central is that it houses the boilers that heat Forest Lake Elementary.

Another question was whether to replace old flooring in areas where no other construction would occur. The choir room in the high school, for example, has original carpet from 1971. 

Business Manager Larry Martini said the lowest flooring allowance quoted, $1.7 million, would provide limited new flooring. He recommended the board “look at the higher end of these numbers” ($3.4 million) to get new flooring in every building. New flooring for just the high school would cost $600,000.

Bystrom asked whether the heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades would result in energy savings. Martini said the new heating equipment would be more efficient, but any cost savings would likely be canceled out by the addition of air conditioning.

“Century was designed for air conditioning everywhere,” he said, “but it was built with air conditioning in only a very limited space.”

The architect pointed out that improving air quality by pumping in more fresh air from outside is the main reason for the replacement.

The board also asked about efforts by the high school parent-teacher organization to improve the media center.

High School Principal Steve Massey said the group raised $5,000 last year and is buying furniture for the media center.

The cost to open the space up and make it more functional is about $1 million.

At the meeting this Thursday, the board is expected to set a date for the levy election.

A Tuesday in May, possibly May 20, received support at the Dec. 2 meeting.