Board hears argument for new school

Voters in the Princeton School District could be asked as early as February to foot the bill for a $23 million project that would include building a new elementary school and demolishing the existing South Elementary.

That was the word on Tuesday, June 26 when the Princeton Board of Education heard a lengthy report about the future of South Elementary.

But first, Supt. Richard Lahn made one thing very clear.

“We are not here asking you to make any decisions. We’re here to bring things to your attention,” Lahn told school board members.

And even though the board wasn’t being asked to make any decisions on June 26, they were told that they might be asked to do so in August.

And talks about a school replacement program were advanced enough that a consultant from Mounds View-based ICS Consulting was on hand to lay out a “conceptual budget summary” for the nearly $23 million project and a “preliminary space study” that detailed the potential space uses in a 101,906-square foot building.

Lahn said the school district is at a crossroads with the South Elementary building and that decisions must be made soon that can no longer be put off.

He compared the building issue to a “can that has been kicked down the road for 10 years.”

“The future is now,” Lahn said.

The school has many repair issues. It was built in 1954 to house 400 students. It has been added on to many times and now houses more than 750 students — nearly double what it was designed for, Lahn said.

Keith Barlage, the school district’s building and grounds director, then outlined some of those repair problems with a slide show.

Included in his presentation were:

n Drinking fountain pipes are broken in many classrooms and cannot be used.

n The kitchen can no longer handle preparing meals for the large student population.

n The cafeteria is extremely undersized.

n There is no air conditioning in the building.

n The gymnasium is undersized and cannot meet the needs of the students. Gym classes are offered to students just a few times each week.

n The electrical system is out of date. The building has no circuit breakers and operates on the old system of fuses.

n The building still has its original boiler. Despite many Band-Aid repairs, the boiler continues to fail, causing students to be educated in the cold when the boiler goes down for repairs in the winter.

n The hot-water heating system is outdated.

n A lot of pipes and hot water tanks are coated with asbestos. The boiler room also has asbestos issues.

n Drains are completely corroded shut.

n Doors are worn out.

n A former shower has been converted to a physical education office.

n A social worker office shares space with the water main system that feeds the sprinkler system.

n Doors have the old-stlye push handles like those that were chained shut by the suspects at Columbine.

n Steel frames are rusting.

n The roof leaks and is in need of an $800,000 replacement.

n The roof skylights are cracked and leak.

n The district continues to lease portable classrooms, a cost now approaching $1.8 million, that have energy costs 1.5 times those of the school building.

ICS Consulting’s Pat Overum said these are just some of the things in “the guts of the building” that are failing.

Overum then presented the school board members with a physical deferred maintenance needs schedule that detailed the cost of needed repairs to South Elementary. The tab came in at $7.61 million.

It raised the question: Does the school district spend nearly $8 million to repair a building that will continue to age and fail, or does it begin looking at building a replacement facility.

The proposal has the school district building a new facility on land the district already owns north of the middle school in Princeton Township.

The preliminary building plan presented last Tuesday would include 12 first grade classrooms, 12 second grade classrooms and seven kindergarten classrooms. There would also be six small group-learning rooms, six storage rooms, and six teacher resource areas.

Special education would have three classrooms, five specialty rooms and storage.

Music and arts will have 4,570 square feet of space, according to the initial plan. A media center would have 4,000 square feet of dedicated space.

The plan includes a 3,900-square foot cafeteria with seating for 300 and two gymnasiums and offices in a 8,400-square foot physical education area.

The total square footage, under the preliminary space summary, would be about 73,000 square feet.

A potential timeline shows that the school district could go out to referendum as soon as February 2013.