Cherokee school facilities review committee meets

Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Cherokee High School. / Photo contributed

Information was supplied, opinions shared, and some personal agendas made obvious at last week’s initial meeting of a Facilities Review Committee (FRC) charged with exploring constructing a new elementary school in Cherokee.

The task took the stage following the proposed sale of the Roosevelt Elementary School (RES) property to the Cherokee Regional Medical Center (CRMC) for $4 million, with contingencies.

Those contingencies include the future success of a bond issue to help fund the project, a decision by the school board to not construct a new elementary building, or possibly other unknown factors that could surface during such a pursuit.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, the FRC was asked to consider two primary options - replacement of RES and replacement of Washington High School. The WHS option surfaced in the community after notice of the possible RES sale was made public.

Also mentioned at the meeting was an option to apply the $4 million to “retrofit” the Cherokee Middle School (CMS) and WHS facilities to accommodate today’s needs, and then proceed in an orderly, well-conceived strategy that would include a new high school and elementary facility in the long term. Aligned with that would be converting the CMS into a K-6 elementary, and WHS into a grades 7-12 secondary school.

The two and a half hour meeting was dominated by presentations from the School District’s architect and financial planner - paid consultants hired by the District - followed by about one hour of questions from committee members answered by the consultants.

Matt Bayse of FEH Design presented building planning process, and Travis Squures of Piper-Jaffray presented financial planning and local spending parameters.

Superintenden Kim Lingenfelter stressed one of the preliminary steps regarding a school bond election is selecting an architectural firm to study the specifications, determine spaces needed, and develop preliminary sketches to accommodate the specs.

She presented three options in selecting an archtectural firm, with two of them cumbersome and time-consuming, if not impractical. The third option favored by Lingenfelter was chosen by the FRC and includes the direct appointment of an architectural firm on the basis of knowledge of the firm, experience, ability, and past performance.

Both FEH and Piper-Jaffray in the past have done consulant work with the District, and FEH has already been commissioned for an initial study of RES for then-proposed renovations and upgrades prior to the CRMC offer.

A recommendation offered by Lingenfelter for the FRC to break into five subcommittees - RES replacement, high school replacement, financial planning, educational needs/site exploration, and public relations/advertising - was quickly shot down by committee members insisting that subcommittees could devolve into divisiveness and muddle and/or stall any positive progress as a single entity.

Although many financial projections for the various options being considered were bandied about, no firm cost estimates were made, nor could they be at this initial juncture until the architectural and financial consultants are hired by the District and appropriate studies completed.

Estimated lump sum figures that have surfaced include about $15-$20 million for a new elementary building attached to the CMS, and $35 million for a new and relocated high school.

The CMS building is now 17 years old and cost an estimated $5 million in Year 2000, not counting costly site work. Inflation and related costs to build the CMS today would be in excess of $11 million, according to the consultants.

The next FRC meeting will probably be announced after the holidays. The school board meets Dec. 18 for its regular monthly meeting.