SPOONER– Is it enough to put Bandaids on the aging Spooner Middle School building for now? For how long? With what end goal in mind? And for how many millions of dollars?
Those are the types of questions that arose when the Spooner Area School District’s ad hoc Referendum Facilities Committee met recently and did a walk-through of the building to see what repairs and updates need to be made. The committee members are evaluating potential projects in each of the district’s three buildings and will prioritize them so they can recommend to the school board which should be put on a referendum to the taxpayers.
In the meantime, the district has hired School Perceptions to draft a survey that will give the public a chance to weigh in on what projects they would support in a referendum. Currently a tentative date for a referendum would be next April, well after the survey would be completed and multiple information sessions and tours of the buildings would be held.
The idea of building a new middle school onto the high school emerged even before the committee began the walk-through, as an alternative to the possible spending of $7.86 million for the projects outlined in the to-do list.
“I would just go one step out and say if the intent was to replace the building,” school board member and committee member Paul Johnson said, “we’re dealing with a whole new topic that is years down the road, I believe, and not just six months down the road because this is a whole new idea for the community that no one knows anything about, and that is going to be a tough sell.”
Even what is on the to-do list already will be a tough sell, Johnson said.
Luke Schultz of CESA, who is helping coordinate the referendum process, told the committee that he knew the question of building a new school could come up, and he ran the numbers, mainly for class and office space since some high school rooms – such as music, shop, and cafeteria – could be shared.
The low-end cost, he said, would be in the ballpark of $18 million and on the higher end, $24 million. That compares to the almost $8 million of total suggested repairs and improvements being considered at both the elementary and middle schools (plus a smaller amount for the high school).
Superintendent David Aslyn said the high school was designed with the construction of the middle school there as a possible contingency.
Approximately $9 million worth of improvements were made to the middle school during the same referendum that built the high school about 10 years ago.
The small gym goes back to the 1940s, and other parts of the middle school were constructed in the 1950s.
The largest chunk of the proposed projects for the middle school would be relocating the offices, conference room, nurse’s room, and related spaces to what is now the back of the school, near the playground and basketball court.
The main reason would be to create a secure vestibule and entryway to help prevent any unauthorized access to the building’s interior. Students would enter through a set of doors there, and once school is in session, all the exterior doors in the school would be locked and the only entrance would be through the office.
That renovation would cost $2.9 million.
A related component would be rerouting student pick-up traffic by parents to that end of the building, with a half-loop from and to Elm Street. Staff parking would move to the other side of College Street.
A less expensive option, $1.7 million, for creating a secure entrance would be to shift the offices over to where the after-school room and part of the lobby are in left front of the Antholz Gym.
Again, entrance to the school once the doors are locked would be through the office.
The third option presented would cost $237,600 and would consist of a small reception area immediately next to the existing entrance. It would be staffed by one or two people, with bulletproof glass installed.
Currently the office staff does not have clear sight lines to seeing who is entering the building.
No plans were suggested for the vacated office space, though enlarging the commons/cafeteria area was mentioned.
The building is “secure, but it could be safer,” said Principal Michelle Kabdi.
“There are some challenges because it’s an old building,” said Aslyn. “And we try to upgrade to meet current conditions and concerns.”
Many schools have the same conditions, and that is a reason for the increase in referendums, Schultz said.
The district used a grant recently to install cameras and other security upgrades at the schools.
Some of the other more costly projects are demolishing the small gym because of its structural deficiencies (it currently cannot be used at all), $700,000; reroofing the Antholz Gym and fifth-grade wing, $280,000; and replacing flooring in most of the classrooms, including some asbestos tiles, $345,000.
A $280,000 project would be replacing windows. Some cannot be cranked out without literally falling out of their frame, and some windows are bolted shut, creating a hazard if people need to escape out the window in an emergency.
Schultz said the district has done an “awesome job” in past few years upgrading mechanical components. Four condensing units are “past age” and need to be replaced.
In the Antholz Gym, the floor needs to be replaced (it can be sanded down to bare wood one more time) and the existing bleachers removed and replaced by one 800-seat set. The showers in the locker room need to be brought up to handicap accessibility compliance.
Committee member Chris Thompson recounted the glory days of Spooner hosting many tournaments in the gym and reminded the committee that the gym is very important to the public.
“But nostalgia is one thing. Money is another,” said committee member Pat Shifferd.
The bleachers, flooring, lockers, repainting, and tile replacement on the wall total an estimated $483,000.
“In addition to the fact that this gym really has some lineage,” Aslyn said, “we have far more demand for gym time and gym space in this district than we’re able to accommodate with all of the facilities in the district.”
Part of the idea of rehabbing the gym, seating, and locker rooms is to meet community access needs, he said.
Most of the gym’s courts are in use daily, including weekends, often until past 8 p.m.
The committee reviewed a variety of smaller projects, also.
Asked about building longevity, Schultz said buildings should last 50 years, but maintenance including roofs and mechanical components should last 20 years.
“If you’re taking good care of it, obviously stuff lasts a lot longer,” he said.
Aslyn said the suggested significant upgrades come with sticker shock, and though some people called them Bandaids, he said they are planned with longevity in mind, not a short-term year or five-year period.
“But, you know that at some point the useful lifespan of this building will come to an end,” he said.
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