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Bond proposes replacing and expanding three schools
Bond proposes replacing and expanding three schools
Posted on 08/25/2015

Cramped learning spaces and insufficient parking.


Old wiring that struggles to keep up with current technology.


Unreliable plumbing, long student dropoff and pickup lines, and worn and frayed carpeting.


Outdated building designs that fall short of supporting best teaching and learning practices.


While the list of teaching and learning challenges continues to grow at aging Firgrove, Northwood, and Sunrise elementary schools, so does student enrollment, putting additional pressure on old structures.


The three schools have either exceeded the number of students the buildings were designed to serve or are quickly approaching that threshold with a flurry of new home construction.


A proposal to address enrollment growth by replacing and expanding the capacity of Firgrove, Northwood, and Sunrise elementary schools comes before voters in the November 3, 2015 school bond election.


All three schools would have 30 home rooms, similar in size to the last two elementary schools built in this district (Edgerton and Carson elementary schools). This school size generally supports four classrooms for each grade level.


Each project would also accommodate full-day kindergarten classes, special education preschool classes, and a dedicated science classroom.


Firgrove Elementary School


Proposal: Replace the school with a new one on district-owned property adjacent to Ballou Junior High and expand the school size to serve an additional 200- plus students (large enough to hold about four classrooms in each grade level).


Space is at a premium at the aging Firgrove Elementary School, which opened more than eight decades ago in 1930.


Herbert Hoover was president at the time, and the country had entered the Great Depression.


Even with numerous classroom additions over its 85-year history, as well as 12 temporary instructional spaces (portable classrooms) located on site, the school was still squeezed for teaching space this past year, said Principal Kristen Schroeder.


Enrollment this past year exceeded the school’s building capacity, or the size it was designed to serve, by nearly 100 students. School leaders tried creative solutions to maximize available space, including renovating a custodial closet into a teaching area for small-group instruction.


Teacher Heather Cage attempted to make the former custodial room welcoming with posters on the wall, shelving, and a table and chairs; however, signs of the room’s intended use were still visible. The staff was unable to hide or move an electrical panel along one wall, a built-in metal wall ladder on another, and a tall wooden ladder in the corner.


When Firgrove Elementary first opened in 1930, it fronted a small country road. Today that road — Meridian Avenue East (also known as State Route 161) — is a busy corridor shuttling more than 40,000 travelers north and south each day.


“It’s like a freeway outside our front door,” Schroeder said.


While the posted speed limit along that stretch of Meridian Avenue East is 40 mph (20 mph in the school speed zone when children are present), cars travel much faster than that, she said. “It’s really a safety issue for our kids, especially young children like kindergartners and preschoolers.”


In the eight decades since the original Firgrove Elementary opened, the school has had four additions (1951, 1961, 1977, and 1980) and a remodel in 1985.


The additions over the past 85 years don’t change the fact, however, that the school has old plumbing, old wiring, interior classrooms without windows, and an outdated school design that doesn’t support best instructional practices such as team teaching and collaboration, Schroeder said.


“We are proud of our school,” Schroeder said, “but the building still functions poorly because of the many add-ons over the years. We’ve been piecing things together for a very long time.”


Despite the best efforts of the district’s maintenance department, the original Firgrove Elementary brick building on the south side of the campus routinely has heating and cooling issues, causing students to either bundle up in jackets in cold weather or try and stay cool in hot weather, Schroeder said.


It’s also not uncommon for the heating and cooling system to leak in various locations of the school, she said, and for the cooling system to be especially loud in some classrooms.


“We have had parents comment during conference time how loud it is,” she said. “It is quite obtrusive.”


The hodge-podge of classroom additions and placement of detached temporary instructional spaces over the past eight decades also creates supervision and security issues such as blind corners that make it difficult to see children at recess, she said.


Schroeder can’t even see the front entry doors from her office, unlike newer schools where the principal’s office is situated to see activity in and out of the school.


The office configuration “also isn’t as welcoming as we would like,” Schroeder said. Even with signs marked at the end of the entry hall, “people have a hard time finding us compared to schools where the office is right inside the front doors.”


Because of the proximity of Firgrove Elementary to the busy main road, students load and unload school buses not far from fast-moving trucks and cars. For this reason, at the end of the school day, students are told to wait behind a safety line until an adult escorts them to their bus.


The district has addressed growth issues at the school in years past by moving, for example, the parent vehicle drop-off and pickup lines away from the front of the school to an area behind the elementary school adjacent to Ballou Junior High. Before then, cars often backed up onto Meridian Avenue South.


As the school has grown in enrollment, so has the demand for parking spaces. It was also designed without a designated cafeteria and food service area.


The proposed Firgrove Elementary replacement and expansion project would begin design work in January 2016, start construction in February 2018, and be complete by August 2019.


Northwood Elementary School


Proposal: Replace the school with a new structure near the existing building on campus and enlarge it to serve an additional 400-plus students (large enough to hold about four classrooms in each grade level).


After years of hearing about growth to the south of them, it may come as a surprise to Edgewood residents that enrollment is growing at a North Hill school.


Yet, signs of a growing economy are everywhere, especially to families that drive to and from Northwood Elementary.


What for years was a sprawling green pasture just west of the school building where students and staff looked forward to seeing cows feeding their babies each spring is now rows of single-family homes in various stages of construction.


Site development for the 33-unit “Northwood Estates” housing complex began just before school let out in June.


Further west and down the hill from the school is the expansive “Westridge” development, which is being cleared and graded for construction of 290 single-family homes.


This is the largest single-family development in Edgewood’s history, said Brian Devereux, the school district’s director of facilities planning.


Further east, on land previously used as a flower farm and visible from the Northwood Elementary playground, is “Arbors at Edgewood.” The 254 apartment units are projected to begin construction this summer and be built in two phases along Meridian Avenue East.


“Everywhere you look there is growth,” said Principal Melanie Helle, who attended Northwood Elementary as a child.


When Helle attended the school, there were less than 150 students enrolled. That number has since more than doubled, creating “traffic jams in the hall” when kids are coming and going to and from music, the library, recess, and class, she said.


While historically the school has had the luxury of some vacant classrooms, those days are long gone, Helle said. “Now everything is occupied, along with some classes in portables.”


Fifth-grade classes, music class, and the QUEST program for highly capable students all meet in the temporary instructional spaces.


“It would be nice to have all of our teachers in the building for collaboration,” Helle said.


The crowding is a precursor to the explosive growth on the way.


“The school hasn’t seen the impact yet of the large numbers of families that will be moving into the units under construction or in the planning and permitting phases,” Devereux said.


Like Firgrove Elementary, even with the best of care, Northwood Elementary is showing its age.


Students and staff still walk on the original orange and gold carpeting from when the building opened in 1974. After 41 years, and despite efforts to keep it clean, the carpet has worn thin and is frayed in some places.


The linoleum gym floor has also separated over the years and cracked along the edges. “We just wax it in where it’s separated,” said Facility Operations Manager Vicki Needham.


The school has single-paned windows, its heating and cooling system is unreliable, and insulation is poor, with some classrooms too cold and others too hot, Helle said. “It’s hard for students to learn when they are too hot or too cold.” she said.


Needham added that the school’s air conditioning is intermittent in at least four classrooms, the library, and the main office.


Because school cafeterias were not included in the school designs years ago, Northwood Elementary food service workers serve lunch in the hallway leading to the gym. There are spills on the floor and carpet daily, Helle said.


“The worst is when we get brownies ground into the carpet,” she said.


A new school would be built with a cafeteria and feature an adequately sized food service area, Helle said.


The proposed Northwood Elementary replacement and expansion project would begin design work in January 2016, start construction in February 2018, and be complete by August 2019.


Sunrise Elementary School


Proposal: Replace the school with a new structure on the same campus site and enlarge it to serve nearly 300 more students (large enough to hold about four classrooms for each grade level).


This past school year, Sunrise Elementary served nearly 100 more students than the building was designed for, resulting in crowded hallways, classrooms, and parking lots.


The cramped quarters has put small-group instruction space at a premium. Support staff, including those who help struggling readers, are assigned any available spaces, including the principal’s office, to provide instruction.


In addition to being crowded, the school design is outdated and doesn’t support advancing technology or best education practices, says Principal Lisa McNamara.


Sunrise Elementary opened in 1973 and had a separate building and covered play shed added four years later. The school has never been remodeled in its 42-year history.


“It’s a tired old building,” said Chief Operations Officer Rudy Fyles.


Classes are spread out between the main building and detached temporary learning spaces (portable classrooms), with some classes inside the building and others, such as music and some support services, in the portable classrooms. This is not conducive, McNamara said, to best education teaching and learning practices.


Kindergarten classrooms, which are more spacious than a typical elementary classroom and have restrooms and sinks for younger students, are located at the front of the school next to the busy parking lot rather than inside the building near the office.


“Our youngest students are the ones walking the furthest to go to lunch, to the library, and to the office,” said McNamara, who shares her office with the assistant principal and any small instructional groups that need a place to meet.


The school was built without a cafeteria, and the only availablespace to serve lunch is in the library, McNamara said. Students wind their way around bookshelves to reach the lunch line and then balance their entrees, salad, apples, and milk cartons on plastic trays as they return, sometimes outdoors in the rain, to their classrooms.


Food spills on the library carpet are recurrent, McNamara said, with pears, pancakes, hamburgers, or pizza landing on the floor next to the books at least once a week. While the school custodian does a good job cleaning, she said it’s not easy cleaning sticky pancake syrup off the carpet.


Lead food server Lori Bachman, who has worked at Sunrise Elementary for the past 16 years, said a designated lunch room space in the proposed new school would eliminate the problem with spills on carpet, as well as disruptions to others wanting to use the library.


Supervision on playgrounds is also challenging, McNamara said, because of the layout of the school.


Sunrise Elementary is situated on two levels — the school and outdoor covered shed play area on the upper level and the fields below.


Adults struggle to see all angles of the outdoor play areas on both levels, McNamara said, and must keep an especially close watch on children in the covered play area near the front of the school in the event that balls bounce into the main parking lot.


Classrooms in general are also smaller in size than in most other district schools, McNamara said, and are spread out throughout the sprawling campus. This design also creates security challenges, she said.


When the school’s main parking lot fills during school events such as school assemblies or family nights, guests are directed to park on the lower field and walk up gravel or steps made of railroad ties to reach the school.


“This isn’t an easy climb, especially for our senior citizens,” she said.


Sunrise Elementary has seen a marked increase in enrollment from families that have moved into the “Villages at South Hill” subdivision located directly across the street from the school entrance. The first phase of the project’s new home construction is complete with 148 homes built. The rest of the proposed 229 single-family detached homes are under construction.


The proposed Sunrise Elementary replacement and expansion project would begin design work in January 2017, start construction in February 2019, and be complete by August 2020.