'No predicting the future'
"Man, do we have an opportunity here. It is going to be wonderful, but it is also going to be a challenge."
That is the reaction of Storm Lake Board of Education leader Mark Schultz after the board got its first exposure to a concept for a new communitywide elementary school building planned for construction near the middle school.
Architect Ken Wictor of Neumann Monson Wictor Architects in Sioux City walked the board through the concept Thursday.
It calls for a building somewhat larger than the middle school, to accommodate all of the elementary children in the community, now served by four aging neighborhood school buildings.
It would stand across the street and face the middle school.
Wictor's concept calls for a two-story building. Kindergarten must be located on the ground level, and then third and fourth grade pods would be located on a second story directly above similar pods for first and second grade.
While the concept is very preliminary, having a two-story building would reduce the footprint of the structure and save costs, and the plan shows a lot of potential for efficiency, Schultz said.
"Ken took a lot of ideas from various sources and from our staff, and tried to put it into a little more of a concrete form to give us a place to start from. The next step will be for the school board to look at revisions, and what it wants to add in or take out, so that later we will get a better idea of what the building will actually look like."
Site work will be more complex than the board anticipated, and could cost up to $1 million, he said. Wictor is seeking to design the building in a way that will allow for construction efficiency to hold that cost down.
"The concept features a lot of opportunity for sharing spaces between the grade levels. There would not be any dead spaces or wasted hallway spaces. Basically, he took everyone's wish list and pared it down," Schultz said. "There is a lot of nice work in this plan and by and large, we were happy with the architect's presentation."
Now the board must begin its hard work of turning desires into realistic spaces - from gym space to music rooms.
The concept calls for only one gym in the building, which could be divided by a central curtain to allow for two recreation league games, for example, to go on at the same time. "It is a difficult issue, especially for scheduling Community Education things, because as we move out of the existing elementaries, we are going to lose two or three gyms," Schultz said.
The concept design is somewhat unique among elementary projects, reflecting extra space to serve Storm Lake's ongoing high priority on reading programs.
The board will make certain that the final building is designed for the option of future expandability, Schultz said.
"I don't know anybody who is smart enough to tell us what Storm Lake and its educational needs are going to look like 15 years from now, or 50 years. Will Storm Lake continue to grow and diversify, or will population at some point shrink like it has for the rest of Iowa?" Schultz said. "There's no way to know, so we are quite set on expandability."
The district is probably a month away from being able to put a cost estimate to the plan.
"All this is going to happen rather rapidly now," Schultz said. "After we have the concepts for the building done, and have a square-footage, then we will have an idea of the cost."
Preparing the site is another challenge. The street and drop off/pick up area at the middle school are already somewhat stressed, and the district will need to meet with city and state officials to discuss transportation and street needs in the area. "It needs to be a consideration," Schultz said.
Still, having the school on district-owned land adjacent to the middle school is an advantage, all things considered.
"There are so many capabilities to share. We can schedule some elementary things in the middle school building if needed. We will be more efficient by having all the buses going there, all the food service, even some staffing could be shared between the buildings," Schultz said. "Of course, the biggest thing is educational expertise, and having everyone the students will need right there in the same building. It is a big opportunity, but it will come with some real challenges."
The board also discussed its technology program. District leaders have been investigating a system to bring more expertise and farsightedness to its program. District leaders, experts from the private sector and Iowa State University officials have helped form some recommendations.
"Our technology has grown in leaps and bounds, but to be honest, the response does tend to be a little haphazard," Schultz said.
The idea is for the district to establish a three to five-year cycle for bringing new technology on line in the schools, a well-budgeted plan similar to the successful models used in business. Superintendent Paul Tedesco will be developing a mechanism to achieve that goal over the next years. "It is part of the growing process, and we are very excited to be going in a slightly different direction on this issue," Schultz said. "We would like to have a very vibrant technology committee put in place, hopefully one that can involve some of the local experts from the community and the college as well."