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Friday, May 6, 2016

Squeeze on space in Alta Elementary School core of proposed expansion plan

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Maxine Lampe knows space is tight at the Alta Elementary School.

Every day the principal of the school which houses the kindergarten through sixth grade students of the Alta School District walks up and down the hallways, greeting students in the cramped library and watching kids who file out of the only bathroom for 275 first through sixth graders in the building.

She makes sure the converted storage room is ready for the speech therapist, social worker, child psychologist and hearing specialist who will use it that day, and she sees teachers attempt to all fit into a small room to try to copy worksheets early in the morning.

Space is tight in the elementary school, and that is the core element of the bond issue up for election Dec. 4 in Alta.

The proposition would include 14 classrooms, a new library/media center and a new gym, much of which would be added to the elementary school.

While Lampe said much of the building, including most of the classrooms, meets the needs of the students, there is just no more room to grow, a problem which will only increase if the district's population expands within the next several years.

"We've simply run out of space," Lampe said. "Every single possible place in the school that can be used is used, and, in some cases, space is being used by more than one teacher throughout the day."

The school built four portable buildings several years ago, which has alleviated some of the space concerns, but even those are now being shared.

One portable is even used at some point in the day by three separate teachers, and two classes, an English as Second Language and Speech class, are only separated by a white chalkboard for a majority of the day.

"The portables have really helped us out, but they're also not connected to the building, which means kids have to travel back and forth between buildings and portables outside during the winter, which isn't ideal," Lampe said. "But, they're something we need to use in order to have all the classes we have to have."

The school is home to 295 students, a small drop in the number of pupils from last year.

But, while some may use the relatively small fluctuation in student population this year to question the need for future additions to the building, Lampe said the higher number of classes the school must offer to students makes all the difference.

"A few years ago, there was no ESL, no Talented and Gifted, no computer lab classes and no after-school program," Lampe said. "We're required by law to have many of those classes today, and the additional programs require additional space. That's where we're starting to run into problems."

The gymnasium is one of the rooms under the most stress in the building, with every available inch being used constantly throughout the day.

A physical education classroom to begin the day, the space turns into a cafeteria over lunch hour, then is transformed into a makeshift band rehearsal area before being converted back into a physical education room.

Lampe said the greatest concern for educators was the loss of instructional time due to making transitions from one type of classroom to another so frequently.

"If you just look at the amount of time that is spent setting up and taking down the chairs and stands for music practice every day, there's so much instructional time that is lost," Lampe said. "That's a big concern. We want kids to have as much educational time as possible in all of our classes."

The shortage of space is also directly affecting the elementary faculty as well as the students.

Several specialty teachers such as social workers and speech therapists shuttle in and out of a small storage room originally meant to house school supplies, and a teacher's breakroom can now only hold a small table and equipment such as a copier up against the wall.

Despite the cramped quarters for some instructors, Lampe said her staff is handling the situation extremely well.

"The teachers have just been absolutely wonderful," Lampe said. "I don't think there are that many faculty staffs in Iowa that are as adaptive and flexible as our teachers are here."

Lampe was also quick to point out certain parts of the building are fine.

The outside playground equipment and new wooden playground are more than adequate for students' needs, and nearly all existing classrooms are also sufficient for everyone.

But, she said the number of those sufficient places to put students is rapidly dwindling, and she hopes Alta can come together and assist the school.

"We want to work with the community and help the students out as much as we can," Lampe said. "We need the help of the community for this."

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