By VICTORIA CALDERON
• Leader & Times
On Monday night, the USD No. 480 Board of Education had a meeting where the primary topic of discussion was the schematic designs for the school bond project.
Brad Kiehl, a senior associate at the DLR Group, went through the schematic designs for the new elementary and middle schools. The designs were put together by the DLR Group’s design team as well as district administrators and members of the Liberal community.
The bond project allows for Cottonwood and Sunflower Intermediate School to be repurposed. They will become elementary schools for grades kindergarten through fifth grade, and so will the new elementary schools to be built at the Pine Street, Smith and MacArthur sites. However, Kiehl only presented the schematic designs for the Pine Street schools and Western middle school to the board.
Kiehl started the discussion with the Pine Street schools.
“This is right off of Pancake, and just east of the new Hampton down there,” he said. “We are currently working on obtaining the surveys and the civil engineering to move this forward with the city planning review process.
“This concept is generally what was presented to your public during the bond campaign,” he added. The layout of the land included a shared parking lot to the north of the elementary school and west of the middle school.
The main entry to the middle school is on the eastern side, by Griffith Avenue, and the elementary school entrance will be off Warren Avenue, from the west. The design also allows for separation of parent and bus dropoff. Buses would come in behind the Hampton Inn and into the west side of the site.
The design for the Western Avenue middle school layout has changed slightly since the bond project was originally proposed.
“In the original schematics, we showed the middle school up on the north half of the property,” Kiehl said. “Currently in that northwest corner, there are some wells and gas lines associated with those rigs. The district is not buying that portion of the property, so there is going to be a square cut out of that northwest corner.”
The solution was to place the school on the south side of the property, where there are less roadways available. It would leave the gym on the north side, adjacent to the practice fields, football field and track, making that area efficient. Entry to the school property would still be off of Western, on the east side of the site.
This revised concept allows for additional parking adjacent to the foootball field and front entry, which limits walking distances.
Next, Kiehl showed the board the interior design of the elementary school prototype.
The plan includes two floors, the first floor including grades K through 3rd. The kindergarten and first grade classrooms are in one educational wing, and second and third grade are in another. Fourth and fifth grade are in a wing on the second floor, directly above the second and third grades.
The kindergarten rooms will be about 1,000 square feet, which includes restrooms. The other grades have slightly smaller classroom space, at 850 square feet.
There are four classrooms per grade level and five kindergarten classrooms.
Other rooms included in the design are a media center, computer lab, music room, administration areas and a teacher resource center in each “neighborhood” (each wing of classrooms is called a neighborhood).
The plan includes discovery areas, which maximizes use of corridors by using them as pullout spaces. These areas are for teachers to bring out their students to do collaborative learning with other classrooms. They have sinks and cabinets, which are lockable to store items.
The design is very open. The music room and media center have access to outdoor courtyards for the students to do “exploratory learning,” as Kiehl said, and the commons room and gym open into a courtyard that opens to the public after school hours. The music room and media center also have plenty of glass windows as opposed to just solid walls, which provides natural light and a sense of excitement within the students.
The classroom neighborhoods and adjoining discovery areas are very beneficial to a student’s education, according to Kiehl. He has observed the benefits to other schools with this layout.
“From my personal perspective... the students have taken more pride within their learning environments. If there are students who need additional support in whatever they’re learning at that time, the teachers can work with that student in the classroom or they can pull them out into the discovery area. There are benches right outside each of the classrooms and the teachers will have windows to the classroom, so they can still see what’s going on inside,” Kiehl said. “I think your teachers will get benefits out of it. We have sinks out in that discovery area, with different seating and different tables, and so they can pull kids out of the classroom and involve more classes and more students. They can interact more; more socialization, not only with other peers, but with other teachers. And I think that’s a benefit for anybody at any age.
“If you start to grow more than those sections, you start to lose some of the personal association of students with teachers. So by arranging these classrooms in neighborhoods, the students can get to know those teachers within those wings for a couple of years before they move to the next wing. There are personal associations that go beyond just some students in the classroom,” he added.
The school prototype is currently at 70,000 square feet, which is less than the number given in the bond project, which was 71,000.
The safe zones in case of an emergency at the school were also decided. The first safe zone would be located in the kindergarten wing, in the teacher planning center area. This wing has the potential to hold 500 students. Another would be in the gym and auxiliary classroom. This zone is for students and teachers at lunch or doing activities in the gym or commons area. There is also a service corridor behind the gym, which can hold 400 students.
Another issue that arose with the board was potential growth of the student population, which would require bigger schools.
“You can build the first phase of a two-phase elementary school and grow into that population as it occurs,” Kiehl explained. “When we are doing the planning process, your school district has a lot of needs. More needs than we are financially capable of obtaining. So we have to look at this in stages. Right now, your growth rates are not supporting an increased growth that would have you build an extra 10 percent or 20 percent of classroom spaces. Maybe after you build these (schools) and you redistrict, it will begin to spur some growth within your community, and then you can begin to graph that out. And then you build that first phase school.”
A first phase elementary school has the same basic design as the prototype presented, but with six fewer classrooms. The classrooms can easily be added on as population grows.
Kiehl then went over the middle school prototype. Each middle school would have a capacity for 660 students at 108,000 feet, 10,000 more than the bond project originally stated.
Each educational wing is divided by sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Each grade level will have 10 classrooms.
If the district finds themselves in a position where the student population is growing, but they are unable to build a phase one elementary school, they can use extra space at the middle schools to build an additional educational wing to move fifth grade into. The gym, music room and other shared rooms would be able to accommodate the extra grade level at both the Pine and Western sites. The growth would not impact parking.
In regard to shared areas, such as the media center and teacher planning centers, the middle school has the same features as the elementary school. The gym is 94 by 274 feet divided by a curtain, with locker rooms in the center and a wrestling room to the right of them. The wrestling room doubles as an area of refuge, because it houses 800 plus students and staff.
At every entrance to the school, visitors are forced directly into an administration area before they can get anywhere in the building.
The design allows for infrastructure increases, which would increase capacity to 1,000 students. The expansion has an auditorium, more bathrooms, more common space, more food service area and an additional eight to 10 classrooms.
Kiehl then gave the board budget and scheduling updates. The budgets for Cottonwood, Sunflower, MacArthur, Smith and the high school construction have not changed from the bond because they have not moved forward on those design projects yet.
They took $1.7 million from the $5 million allowance the board voted on a couple weeks ago to balance their budget. However, their goal is to balance the budget by using only $1 million of that allowance, according to Kiehl.
To stay on schedule, the design team aims to present the design development phase in mid July.
From there, the goal is to bid the project in mid August, take bids in September, and then come back to the board for approval of contracts. And then they want construction to start in October.
“With the purchasing of the sites, the surveys that have to be balanced between the existing landowners and the district surveyors are lagging behind. We needed the information about 2 weeks ago for a civil engineer to do the plotting and the design for storm and sanitary that your city requires,” Kiehl said. “Even if we got the surveys today, there’s not enough time to meet that deadline on July 10.”
Kiehl plans on staying in close contact with the city to coordinate the planning review process, so they can keep the project on schedule. But since the surveys are behind, they may have to move the project out a month.
“Your administrators and the design team have worked hard to look at the space adjacencies,” Kiehl said. “We have modified an administrative area to reflect Liberal’s staff and how they use this facility for operations, so we think we have come a long way in a very short period of time. We’re ready to take it to the next level by detailing it and getting more specific on materials.”
The board approved the schematic design 6 to 1, with board member Steve Helm voting no.