Multimedia Journalist

Jefferson City School District considers two new buildings to address space

The Jefferson City School District Board of Education on Monday will be updated on a plan to construct two fifth- and sixth-grade centers to address overcrowding in K-8 schools with the idea the board in January could authorize an April vote on the plan.

Under the plan — studied by a facility focus group comprised of school district employees, board members and members of the public — the centers would be built on district-owned land near Thomas Jefferson and Lewis and Clark middle schools, JC Schools Chief Financial and Operations Officer Jason Hoffman previously said.

The school board will be told Monday that voters would have to approve a no-tax increase ballot issue on the April 2020 ballot to pay for the intermediate school plan. If voters approve the plan, the schools could open in fall 2022, Hoffman said.

In 2015, Superintendent Larry Linthacum noticed the district had K-12 space needs, Hoffman said. The 2017 bond issue, which funded renovations to the existing Jefferson City High School and construction of Capital City High School on a new site, addressed the needs for the high school population.

Capital City High School opened in August with its initial phase of construction — 40 classrooms, kitchen, commons, administrative offices, a practice field and a parking lot. CCHS construction is expected to be completed this month.

JCHS renovations included upgraded classrooms, gym, cafeteria, kitchen, commons, administrative offices, and a new connection between the high school and Nichols Career Center. Final classroom renovations are expected to be completed this month.

After addressing high school needs, the next step was addressing K-8 space needs, Hoffman said. A report from ACI Boland Architects showed most of the elementary and middle schools were filled or beyond capacity.

Linthacum created a facility focus group to “informally bring together a variety of individuals with different perspectives (parents, community members, staff members, etc) to review the current state of our schools and provide feedback on their thoughts regarding how to address overcrowding,” JC Schools Director of Communication Ryan Burns told the News Tribune.

JC Schools staff on the committee were Linthacum; Paula Hotz, teacher and parent; Kate Leary, teacher; and Joni Henderson, teacher.

School board members on the committee were Steve Bruce and Lori Massman.

Members from the public were Rich Aubuchon, parent and former board member; Brad Bates, parent who has since announced his intention to run for school board; Julie Burcham, parent and business owner; Ashley French, business owner; Kim Hardin, parent; Debra Kaiser, retired teacher and grandparent; Brian Mutert, parent; Ashley Pederson, business owner; and Matt Tollerton, community member.

The group is supported by JC Schools staff: Hoffman, Director of Quality Improvement Brenda Hatfield; Director of Elementary Education Lorie Rost; Chief of Learning Brian Shindorf; Frank Underwood, director of facilities and transportation and safety and security coordinator; and Director of Secondary Education Gary Verslues.

The committee began meeting in the spring and gathered over the course of nine months to consider the best solutions for addressing K-8 space needs, Hatfield said.

The group met monthly, and the meetings were not open to the public. When asked why the meetings were not open to the public, Burns said the “informal working group was primarily tasked with information gathering and analysis.”

The committee toured the district’s 18 buildings; reviewed the ACI Boland assessment; and surveyed building staff, students, teachers and parents, Hatfield said. The tours showed the group how faculty and staff use non-classroom spaces for services and share spaces, she said.

For instance, instead of going to a music classroom, Moreau Heights Elementary students have a music cart come to their room. Support services such as English as a second language, behavior supports and speech therapy are being done in unique spaces including hallways, stairwells, closets and common spaces at Lewis and Clark Middle School that were divided into two classrooms.

Although the creativity of teachers was necessary, it is not the solution to the long-term problem, Hatfield said.

“We took what was space that we would have normally used for collaboration or presentation or for kids to be able to do stuff, and we divided it in half and made it into two classrooms,” Hatfield said. “So that’s not the intended use of that actual space, and they are still over capacity.”

The district has used trailers for support services at Pioneer Trail Elementary, Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Callaway Hills Elementary and East Elementary. There is an immediate need for trailers at Lawson, Moreau Heights and North elementary schools, Hatfield said.

The group also reviewed the ACI Boland assessment, discussed solutions for space needs, financial impacts, and weighed the pros and cons.

Several solutions were considered to address the overcrowding, Hoffman said. They included:

• Adding one or two elementary schools to the 11-school mix.

• Adding a third middle school.

• Building two fifth- and sixth-grade buildings.

• Building two kindergarten and first-grade buildings.

The intermediate grade buildings was the favorite of the group, he said.

Some options didn’t stick because of cost and difficulties for the students, Hoffman said.

“It’s definitely cheaper to build elementary schools than middle schools, but where the increase comes in is in the operating side,” Hoffman said. “By adding a 12th and 13th elementary school in order to keep them all K-5, you’re just moving a few students from every building, and it would just be reducing class sizes and not reducing the number of teachers. We would need to add teachers.”

Architects Alliance in July drafted, at no cost to the district, preliminary bubble graphics of what the fifth- and sixth-grade buildings would look like, Hoffman said. Those sketches include two-story buildings with space for 40 classrooms, administration offices, support services, media center, locker rooms, gymnasium, collaboration space and a vestibule.

Two buildings could cost about $70 million, not including administration, support staff, some teachers, utility costs and building access roads to both buildings, Hoffman said.

“Overall, we can cover all the operating costs within our current budget,” he said.

The fifth- and sixth-grade plan would open two or four classrooms in each elementary building and an estimated 15 classrooms in the middle schools, Hoffman said.

To add the fifth- and sixth-grade buildings, students would switch buildings in fourth grade and seventh grade. Currently, students switch buildings at kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade.

The extra space could also open the opportunity for preschool options in some buildings, Hoffman said. The district offers preschool at Southwest Early Childhood Center and Callaway Hills Elementary. Having space in neighborhood schools would provide the district the option to offer more preschool classrooms, he said.

The fifth- and sixth-grade centers would impact bus pairings and lunch schedules, officials said. Bus routes would likely be grouped by kindergarten through fourth grade, fifth and sixth grade, seventh and eighth grade, and grades 9-12, Hoffman said.

In Missouri, 21 districts use the fifth- and sixth-grade or intermediate centers, according to information from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

JC Schools Chief of Learning Brian Shindorf and his staff conducted interviews with staff at 11 of those schools. The responses were turned into an executive summary of their findings and given to the focus group. Information from the summary was included in Hoffman and Hatfield’s November report to the board.

If the board puts the plan before voters, the district would host public meetings to present information and collect feedback on the plan, Burns said.

“It is important to us that we provide the public with a current reality regarding overcrowding in our elementary and middle schools and that they understand how the addition of fifth- and sixth- grade buildings would help to address this issue while also allowing for an improvement to the learning environment moving,” Burns said.

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