Discussion heats up around elementary school air conditioningSchool board weighs the costs of air conditioning four 50-year-old buildings
BY KARYN SPORY
Mt. Pleasant News
Despite sitting comfortably in the High School Media Center Monday night, the Mt. Pleasant School Board felt as if they were stuck between a rock and a hard place.
It has been a goal of the board for some time now to air condition the district’s four elementary schools. However, as work estimates topple into the millions the board has been asking itself if it’s worth putting $5-6 million into 50-year-old buildings that need more work than just being cooled down.
“We need to make some sort of decision on how big a scope we’re looking at,” Superintendent John Henriksen said during the work session. “Are we just going to air condition (the elementary schools) as they sit… or do we want to do some other things like asbestos abatement, the exterior of Van Allen or we’ve had some discussion about new construction.”
With regards to Van Allen, the exterior brick is deteriorating. Mike Chambers, an engineer with RDG Planning and Design, the Des Moines based firm the district hired to conduct a feasibility study for air conditioning, said fixing the problem could cost anywhere between $550,000 – covering up the brick with EIFS (exterior insulation and finish system) - to around $3 million if the district removed the brick and replaced it with new.
Other items noted in the study were making the school’s bathrooms ADA compliant and adding a wheelchair lift to Lincoln Elementary to make the multipurpose room/gymnasium handicap accessible. Chambers said the elevator was not feasible, but if the district built a ramp it would have to be 63 feet long, something Principal Lori LaFrenz chuckled at before telling the board in no uncertain terms, a ramp that long would never fit in her building.
Board member Dave Christensen said while the district needs to be cognizant of safety concerns with the buildings, they should also be concerned if the building is helping to prepare the students for the future.
“We know space can affect them, but can it harm them?” He asked. “We know in our inner cities building conditions can be so bad it does harm (students).”
Christensen, along with several other board members, pointed out that the elementary school hallways are used as both learning and storage space.
If the district were to build a new elementary school, raw estimates would put the cost anywhere between $20-$25 million.
Board member Melinda Huisinga said she would be interested to hear the community’s opinion on building a new elementary school. The board suggested holding an open house at each of the four elementary schools so community members could see what kind of shape the buildings were in and so the district could gauge how open they would be to a bond referendum.
“I don’t know if we have veered off,” Chuck Andrew said to his fellow board members. “Originally it was stated where one of our main focuses should be air conditioning the elementaries. Some of us will remember that conversation. Lets focus on air conditioning the elementaries.”
“But that was when we thought (the project) was going to be $2-$3 million,” countered Christensen.
Andrew said since the district began consulting with RDG, they have gone from making air conditioning the schools a priority to “fixing the walls to making everything ADA compliant. Rather than just focus on air conditioning the four elementary (schools) we’ve gone to a $28 million new school.”
As the board began toying with the idea of a new elementary school and possible funding sources, Henriksen reminded those at the table the district would be facing around $800,000 in budget reductions this fiscal year from the general fund. “We’re cutting money from this fund, but the question of building a $20-some million school; how do people correlate that?” he asked.
The board agreed to continue the conversation. “We should always throw on the table questions that have absolutely nothing to do with money as it relates to school buildings, but what’s best for our students,” said Henriksen.