By Eric Hawkinson
SOLON– You might want to think about replacing that middle school.
The Solon school board discussed its options for the district’s facility plan on Monday, Oct. 21. While the board did not finalize any course of action, members appeared in agreement about a consultant’s recommendations and the overall phasing of significant projects, including the addition of a large-enough auditorium at the high school.
“What we heard from the community, loudly, is ‘we’re going to get one shot at this, don’t build [the auditorium] too small,” board president Dick Schwab said.
The facility report includes recommendation for a 1,000-seat auditorium. Solon High School Principal Nathan Wear said other larger Iowa schools such as Clear Creek Amana and Western Dubuque have 700-seat auditoriums that are adequate. He also noted that a 1,000-seat amphitheater would not be large enough to host Solon graduation events. Other board members raised concerns about the risk of minimal sell-out events.
Board member Dan Coons suggested utilizing the auditorium as much as possible within the community, as opposed to leaving event planning solely for the high school.
“In my mind, what we did right about Spartan Stadium was more access, more use,” Coons said. “More people were able to be on it. What else could we re-purpose an auditorium for, so it gets used more frequently rather than 20 times a year?”
The meeting was a work session, and included a presentation from Waterloo Architectural firm, Struxture, which conducted the extensive evaluation of the district’s current facilities.
Struxture started its process in March, taking a team of engineers through the district’s three buildings and evaluating them not only on structural deficiencies but on how they compared to standards for ideal educational settings.
The firm also conducted small focus groups with community leaders and put out an online survey.
The results were shared with members of the district’s facilities committee over the course of two sessions, and the recommendations in the report were forwarded to the board for consideration.
That consideration began last week at the special meeting held Oct. 21, where representatives of the educational engineering company shared some conceptual projects and costs.
After Stuxture architect John Darveau laid out site proposals, board members held talks to determine next steps. Stuxture’s preliminary proposals included rough cost estimates at each of the planning sites– the total cost depends on the action the school board takes. Projected costs include, and are not limited to, a new middle school at $16.8 million versus a renovated middle school for $12.8 million, a new third-fifth grade attendance center at $7.8 million, and a high school auditorium at $6 million.
The board agreed that sequencing for each of the facilities projects remains a top priority, and certain board members argued a new attendance center should be at the front of the list.
“I think a new attendance center is in our future,” Schwab said.
With a relatively new high school and a recent expansion to Lakeview Elementary, it only made sense that the Solon Middle School rated the poorest among the district’s facilities.
The “patchwork complex” has an irregular shape and although the district has invested substantially into the building, a number of structural problems remain to address, the report concluded.
One suggested plan reviewed at last Monday’s meeting called for simultaneously building a new elementary-aged attendance center and a high school amphitheater, and to renovate the existing middle school. But board members could not find immediate consensus on whether the new attendance center would be for grades three through five, or six through eight.
Board member Rick Jedlicka said he thought it made greater sense to build a sixth-eighth grade attendance center because it is logical for students to transition to nicer schools as they go through the school process.
“The bottom line, it comes down to the dollars,” he said.
Schwab summed up the work session by restating the three crucial points to consider: the additional cost of a new attendance center, the optimal student size for the new attendance center, and the district bonding capacity over the next 10 years.
The board is expected to continue deliberations at its next meeting.