Spalding Site Considered for New School
The District 41 Finance and Facilities Committee heard a presentation from its archicture partner Monday that detailed the potential for the use of the Spalding site to relieve the district's space problem.
District 41 is looking at possible solutions to deal with its lack-of-space issue.
FGM Architects, the district's architecture partner, presented plans at Monday night’s District 41 Finance and Facilities Committee meeting to build an approximately 72,000-square-foot, two-story elementary school for kindergarten through fifth grade on the Spalding site, which sits between Forest Avenue and Park Boulevard on 1st Street.
District 41 already owns the land, which was home to a former district elementary school that closed in 1978. The building was demolished in 1997.
FGM’s presentation, what Director of Communications Julie Worthen called a “test fit,” is one possibility of addressing a 2009 Master Facilities Committee recommendation adopted by the board to put all District 41 students “under roof.” Worthen said there are currently 32 portable classrooms being used across the district.
Worthen said that no board action is imminent. Monday’s presentation, she said, was part of the effort to get a long-term plan in place, whether it’s a new school at Spalding, or another option. Don’t expect a ground-breaking anywhere yet.
“We’re far from that point,” Worthen said.
According to the plans presented, the new 600-student school would sit on the west side of the Spalding property. It would take up 23.47 percent of the 4.73-acre property, approximately the same proportion as Forest Glen Elementary. That’s due to the fact that there would be two levels of classrooms. Kindergarten, first grade and second grade classrooms would be located on the first floor. Third through fifth would go to class on the second floor.
FGM Design Director August Battaglia said it’s a design common among urban schools that sit on smaller properties.
In the southwest corner would sit a 116-car parking lot. In the southeast corner, there would be a small baseball diamond. North of the building would be a plaza where buses would pick up and drop off students. Battaglia suggested the plaza could be gated during the day and used as a recreation area in addition to the green-space playground that would sit west of the building.
Battaglia said the designers made plans assuming the park district parcel to the north of the school district’s plot would not be available for development. A inter-governmental agreement between District 41 and the park district to include some of the space in the redevelopment is possible, Worthen said, but not very gainful due to it being mostly marsh.
“It is open space and you could possibly use it for playgrounds, but it doesn’t help you out in terms of your building and your paved areas,” Worthen said.
Worthen said there has been a lot of discussion by the board on the usability of the Spalding site due to its size. According to Battaglia’s presentation, state guidelines recommend elementary schools be built on land that is at least five acres. One acre should be added for every 100 students who would attend.
That would leave the Spalding site more than six acres short. Battaglia made clear that the state guidelines are not law.
“There are probably other ways, but this is a pretty efficient, straightforward way of doing it,” Battaglia said. “It’s compact, but it’s still a nice environment.”
At the same time, Battaglia said, he didn’t want to “fool anybody into saying this is ideal.”
“It can be done,” he said. “You just have to recognize the green space is where the issues are.”
FGM said they have not calculated a price estimate for construction. However, they estimated it would be $180 to $200 per square foot. That would be $13 million to $14.5 million for a 72,000-square-foot building.
The plan presented Monday is one of three solutions being considered, according to Worthen. She said the district is also considering purchasing land for a new school. In one scenario, an elementary school would be built on the new land. In the other, the purchased land would house a new junior high. If that were the choice, Hadley Junior High would be turned into an elementary school.
School board and finance and facilities committee member Bob Solak said he viewed Monday’s presentation as affirmation that the Spalding site is a viable option.
“I was interested in tonight’s presentation to see if we’d eliminate Spalding,” Solak said. “Obviously there are lots of things to talk about, [which students are] going to go there, things we would do to the site that aren’t in these drawings. I’m pleasantly surprised you could actually put a building on here.”
FGM’s plan will go before the board at the March 21 meeting for discussion. Worthen said no other plans are scheduled to go before the Finance and Facility Committee or the school board, and no action by the board on any lont-term plan addressing the space shortage is scheduled.
In other school board action:
- The board heard five-year financial projections from Superintendent Ann Riebock and from Bob Ciserella, assistant superintendant for finance, facilities and operations.
- In advance of staffing decisions for the 2011-12 school year, the board voted to maintain the class-size projections that have been in place since 2006. They are 20 to 22 students for kindergarten through second grade, 23 to 25 students for third grade, 25 to 27 students for fourth and fifth grade, and 26 to 28 students for sixth grade through eighth grade.
- The board discussed acceptable uses of accumulated fund balances. Mainly, it was a debate over whether such balances were to be saved "for a rainy day" or if there are practical uses for the money, such as for capital projects. Further discussion will take place at a future meeting.