The Clarke County School Board listened to three possible renovation approaches for Berryville area’s aging elementary school complex on Monday night. None of the options included a future for Berryville Primary School and at least one school board member believes that storm water management issues pose a bigger challenge than design engineers have stated. With one additional engineering firm still yet to offer its recommendations, the School Board seemed far from consensus after last night’s meeting.
OWPR Inc. president, Randy Jones offered the School Board three constructions approaches for addressing the school division’s plan to renovate its Berryville area elementary schools now that the construction of the new Clarke County High School has been completed. OWPR’s no-cost recommendations included a combination of renovation and additions to the current high school and Cooley Elementary.
Jones said that the three options presented by OWPR were designed to stay within the school division’s $7.2M budget. Changes to Johnson-Williams Middle School and Berryville Primary School were not recommended in the OWPR proposal.
Jones said that under OWPR’s “Option A,” grades 2 – 5 could be housed under two building additions at the old high school totaling 6,500 sq. ft. Jones said that under Option A the cafeteria, band room, kitchen, and gymnasium would remain “as-is” at the old high school, while Cooley Elementary would be renovated to house pre-K through first grade.
Under “Option B” the old high school would be renovated to house pre-K through first grade and Cooley would receive a 10,200 sq. ft.- ten classroom expansion to handle grades 2 – 5.
OWPR’s “Option C” envisions the old high school handling pre-K through fifth grade under a single roof by way of 25,400 sq. ft. in new construction and 30,200 sq. ft. of renovated space. Option C includes converting Cooley into a central administration facility.
Using a cost base of $90 per sq. ft. for renovation and $160 per sq. ft. for new construction, Jones estimated a $7.2M cost for Option A, $7.4M for Option B, and $6.8M for Option C. Jones added that if the school division elected to employ a construction manager for the project, costs would increase four to six percent.
“But it would be uncommon to use a construction manager for a project of this size,” Jones added.
Because OWPR’s cost estimates and design recommendations are being provided pro-bono to the Clarke County School division, the School Board is under no obligation to act on any of the options presented last night by OWPR. Even so, School Board members are under increasing community and financial pressure to move forward with renovation plans while costs remain low do to the struggling construction industry.
After having their first look at OWPR’s building plans at last night’s meeting, School Board members probed Jones about the strengths and weaknesses of each option.
Several School Board members expressed a desire to include natural light in all classrooms but Jones said that because of design characteristics in the two school buildings each of the three design options results in some classrooms without windows.
School Board member Chip Schutte (White Post) asked Jones about how future growth would be addressed under the single-school approach outlined in Option C.
“The only room for growth option would be the excess capacity of 3.4 students per classroom,” Jones said.
School Board Member Dr. Beth Leffel (Buckmarsh) raised several questions about the likelihood of completing the project in time for use by the 2013 school year.
“Is it a pipe dream to believe that we could be done by the fall of 2013?” Leffel asked
Jones replied that assuming three to four months for architectural design and fourteen months of construction, a 2013 completion date would be “very difficult” to achieve.
However, School Board member Jim Brinkmeier (Berryville) appeared to be the lone member of the meeting who believed that the more aggressive 2013 completion date timeline is still achievable.
“I think that it can be done,” Brinkmeier said. “It will definitely be a push, but it is doable if we keep the train moving.”
Jones offered tentative agreement to Brinkmeier’s optimism, but included the caveat that in order to be successful the School Board will “need a very regimented design process.”
School Board Chairman Janet Alger (Russell) suggested a more deliberate approach and questioned the need to drive the timeline as aggressively as Brinkmeier advocated.
“This project is very important to our community,” Alger said. “We need to do it right and look closely at capacity, classroom size and future expansion. I’m not quite sure what the rush is about.”
“I’ve never advocated rushing,” Brinkmeier replied. ”But we have had multiple studies done. We have to pull the trigger at some point. I don’t want to wait another ten years to get these renovations done.”
“There are still a lot of decisions that we need to quantify,” Alger replied. “I’m willing to commit to extra meetings to get those decision made.”
Brinkmeier asked which option Jones believed was best for Clarke County Public schools.
Jones said that the ideal situation for Clarke is a single elementary school with a student population of between 400 – 600 students.
“Having a pre-Kindergarten through fifth grade school building is the best way to go,” Jones said. “Typically one facility is less expensive to operate because of the inherent savings in operational costs. It also is nicer because all of the students are under one roof.”
School Board member Barbara Lee (Millwood) concurred with Jones’s assessment but said that the community had grown a custom to a multiple school approach and that any change would require convincing the public that the new approach was better.
“As an educator I believe that a K – 5 school is educationally sounder than the other two options,” Lee said.
“My concern with Option C is that there is no growth potential,” Alger responded.
School Board member Schutte also raised concerns about the single-school approach noting that core facilities in the old high school under the OWPR plan – including plumbing and cafeteria facilities – remain fixed even though the building’s footprint will expand. Schutte also repeated his concerns about storm water management if the old high school footprint is expanded.
“I’ve got a big problem with that many students in a building where the core facilities were built to accommodate only two-thirds as many students,” Schutte said. “If we go in that direction we need to expand the core facilities like the lunchroom.”
Schutte reiterated his concern from previous meetings that managing storm water runoff from an expanded school footprint at the old high school was as much of a political problem as an engineering problem.
“Dumping water in that channel from such a large project will cause problems downstream and I don’t want to go there,” Schutte said.
Jones agreed with Schutte and appeared to contradict statements by engineering firm PHR&A that expansion of the old high school would not require a storm water management pond.
“The County would require you to have a storm water management pond,” Jones concurred. “You would need a storm water management pond large enough to control a managed release of water.”
“The engineers may be able to show that they can deal with it but I still think that we need to factor in the cost of a storm water management pond,” Schutte said.
With proposals now in hand from both OWPR and PHR&A, the School Board will hear it’s last pro-bono proposal from architectural firm Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates (CRA) on May 21st.