Remodel may move fifth graders |

Remodel may move fifth graders

Taylor Eisenman, of the Record staff

The collapse of South Summit Middle School’s roof on Friday, Feb. 8, may turn out to be as helpful as it is problematic. The district’s school board called a special session Thursday to discuss options for fixing the roof, which included ideas for major remodeling.

A recap of events and how it’s been going since the collapse

The roof primarily fell in onto the school’s two locker room areas. Engineers are still analyzing why the trusses failed. They have yet to give their final verdict as to the cause of collapse, but it appears to have been from excess snow load. (The roof was built to hold a 40-pound snow load, while roofs built nowadays have a 90-pound load requirement.)

Luckily, the roof caved in after the programs run after hours by an adjoining community recreation center, had finished and everyone had left the building for the night. "I just felt so fortunate that it happened when it did," Superintendent Barry Walker said.

Walker added that his staff handled the situation wonderfully. A group of volunteers came in the Saturday after the collapse to help pack up belongings left in student lockers to be taken to the elementary and high schools where the middle school’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders were relocated for the following week.

The middle school students didn’t miss any school and were back in their building by Tuesday, Feb. 19, with just a few minor changes. They no longer have access to the gyms, home economics or woodshop areas, and the hallway on the other side of the locker rooms is blocked off, making trips to a few classes a little longer than normal.

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No classes were cancelled. Home economics was relocated to another classroom in the building. Woodshop is now held in the district’s bus garage, which is close by, and physical education classes take place in the community recreation center, as well as the high school’s gym when needed.

Walker said the biggest challenge so far has been dealing with lunchtime. "We used to utilize the gyms as a place for kids to go and hang out for 15 to 20 minutes after lunch," he said. "Now they’re confined to the hallways."

He said they’ve had more "junior-high-type activities" because of it and they’ve assigned more teachers to monitor the hallways. Once the weather warms up, however, students will be able to go outside during this time.

Special session called

Walker estimates that the engineers assessing the damages will be done within a week or so. For this reason, a special meeting of the school board was called in order to hear architectural options for the area. "We want to be ready so that when that’s done, we have made a decision about what we’re going to do," Walker said.

Brent Tippets of VBCO Architecture, presented three options to the board. "The district asked me to look at what alternatives are available, and possibly solve some other problems at the same time."

These "other problems" include an elementary school that is at its maximum. The district is looking at not just fixing the roof, but expanding the middle school with additional classrooms in order to bring in the elementary school’s fifth graders to help alleviate some of the space constraints they are experiencing.

The first option would keep the building’s structure the same, rebuild the roof, and transform one unnecessary locker room into two additional classrooms.

Option two involved demolishing most of the western end of the building where the collapse took place and adding six more classrooms to provide enough space to bring in fifth grade.

The third option is a more elaborate version of option two, as Tippets explained it. "I’ve done similar concepts at other schools before," he said. "We are trying to enhance the educational environment by building a better learning community."

In this plan, the fifth graders would be able to function in their own space or "academy" with a separate break-out room for group collaboration.

Additional needs that Wade Woolstenhulme, middle school principal, brought up were a choral room and special needs room. Tippets responded, "If there are spaces we haven’t talk about, we can certainly work to accommodate that," he said. "This is the time and the chance to improve upon this."

Other opinions

South Summit Elementary School Principal Louise Willoughby said the best-case scenario would be to keep fifth graders at the elementary school. "I believe, and research shows, that fifth graders do better in an elementary environment," she said. "But I also understand that we are severely out of space."

She estimated that the elementary school is gaining about 30 to 35 students per year. If they did move fifth grade, it would free up about four classrooms and remove about 110 students.

Parent and second-grade teacher Ellen Thompson also voiced her concern about moving the fifth graders. "When my daughters were put into the middle school at fifth grade, it was not good a good thing," she said.

South Summit’s middle school was originally built as a fifth- through eighth-grade school with students of all grades intermixing. However, the plans drawn up for the third-option remodel would keep the fifth graders separated in their own academy.

Woolstenhulme added that it would be more about making sure things like passing periods, lunch, etc. for fifth and sixth didn’t overlap with seventh and eighth. "We would have to be creative in figuring out a schedule so they don’t interact," he said.

Thompson said if the students were contained, that would be a different story. Sixth-grade teacher Cindy Butterfield agreed. She would prefer to isolate the fifth and sixth graders in order to make it work. She also emphasized the importance of the break-out room or "kiva" as she called it in the design.

"They’ve [fifth and sixth grade] got to have a place where they can be themselves without the influences of the seventh and eighth graders," she said.

Willoughby added that recess is would be concern as well.

Costs, additional plans and timelines

The school board decided to get cost estimates from VBCO on option one and option three, both of which include looking at the possibility of adding new racquetball courts, office space and exercise studio space for the adjoining recreation center. (The additions to the recreation center were something the board was looking at before the roof collapsed.)

Even though VBCO didn’t have solid figures for the plans, Tippets said the running cost for school additions is about $160 per square foot. His calculation for the size of the option-three expansion was about 15,000 to 18,000 square feet. This, however, included repairing the locker room areas, about 4,000 square feet, which would be covered by insurance.

Business Administrator Zane Woolstenhulme estimated that without help from insurance, the "academy" expansion would cost a little less than $3 million, which he said the district could potentially pay for without having to borrow money.

While the district could afford option three, they would have to wait at least a year, according to Tippets, before the expansion would be finished. That would mean the fifth graders would not be able to move until fall, 2009. For option one, Tippets said it might be a stretch, but they would try to have it completed by the next school year.

The school board plans to host another special session on Wednesday to hear a break down of costs in order to help them make their decision.

"There are a lot of factors to consider," Walker said.

School Board Vice President Kendell Woolstenhulme said to Wade Woolstenhulme: "We want to do what will work for you guys, but we also need to look at the numbers and do what’s sensible."