By Alex Kline
SOLON– What would it look like?
The members of the Solon school board began investigating more refined options for a possible multi-million dollar building project last week during a work session Monday, Nov. 25.
Board members visited with architect John Darveau of the architectural firm Struxture to consider two concepts for a new middle school as well as additional wings to the high school.
While the members weren’t ready to pull the trigger just yet on these models, most felt the new concepts were a good jumping off point and would help motivate them to make some necessary decisions before the projects can move forward.
Much of the discussion centered on a troublesome third through eighth grade middle school scenario, and used the opportunity to workshop what could and could not work for a new building.
“You’ve given the board a lot of options and a lot to talk about,” said superintendent Sam Miller of the architect’s rendition. “If you were only building a sixth through eighth school I think you’ve really captured the spaces that we are looking for.”
The projected cost for a fifth through eighth grade school was over $16 million. A third and fourth grade wing could cost almost $3.7 million extra.
“I think one of the valuable things for us in this journey is having this data so we can eliminate choices just as much as we like choices,” said Miller “I think you’re kind of sharing with us something that, at least in my mind, is probably closing the door on saying lets look at building a six through eight building with a four through five wing, and third grade down the road. To me the data that you have the three through five needs to become a separate project at some point in time.”
Though larger classrooms and multi-use areas such as the gym and commons were a hit, issues with transportation, location of third, fourth and fifth graders, and potential problems for scheduling art, music, and family consumer science made the design unsuitable.
“Its kind of a scheduling nightmare if you’re trying to schedule one teacher in one room to cover six grades,” said board member Dan Coons on the lack of extra room for specials. He added that the proposed parking and transportation design was not a realistic solution.
“I envision with this sort of configuration we’re going to have cars parked out on 5th Street trying to get into here,” Coons said.
Many of the concerns stemmed from a lack of decision regarding location. Miller said that while the option might not work, it did highlight the need for a decision on land.
“I think that one thing that would make this conversation flow for all of us is if the board decides to really hone in on a particular piece of property,” said Miller. “And then all of a sudden you’ve got a canvas that you know that you’re working with.”
Hypothetically, Miller suggested a possibility of a definitive decision on land during a closed session at the Dec. 9 meeting, with presentation of another plan for the middle school and high school projects taking place sometime in mid-December. Allowing for adjustments from the board, the public could see a finalized concept by January or February.
“I think it’s going to depend on how all those pieces fall,” said board member Rick Jedlicka. “If we feel like the property is right and we are set on a sixth and eighth building, whatever location that is, I don’t think that’s unrealistic.”
The concept adding wings to the high school was much more popular than the middle school, according to the board. The highlight of the over $8 million design was the addition of an 850-seat auditorium with an orchestra pit, space for dressing rooms and storage on the east side of the building.
The board was not completely satisfied with the size of the auditorium and wondered whether continuing the second floor corridor to create an indoor running space was feasible.
“For the high school side of it, I really like the direction we’re heading,“ said board member Dean Martin. “On the other side, there might be a little debate yet on what is the appropriate size for the auditorium.”
“While we are in the thinking phase, we might as well think,” said Coons referring to the possible addition of an indoor track. “If you walk out of where the FCS (family consumer science) is in the spring, you’re likely to get killed.”
The board also liked the idea of using the addition to the second floor to create extra classrooms above the new weight room.
“We have a couple teachers in the high school that don’t have their own classroom,” Miller said. “If you build a couple classrooms [on the second floor], we can put a teacher in it today.”
At this stage, the two projects presented to the board seemed slightly overwhelming.
“What we initially looked at was definitely the auditorium, and this obviously satisfies that,” said Jedlicka. “What came up in the last month was the potential to add some additional stuff on to the west end, which I’m not opposed to, but if that starts eliminating what we are going to do for the middle school, I think we’ve got to reevaluate that.”
Many of the board members were concerned about deciding which parts of both the projects would be highest priority and making sure the message that is presented to the public will be clearly defined when a satisfactory plan is developed.
“People want us to articulate this is the need, and this is how it fills the need and this is where we are going,” said board member Tim Brown. “The question we need to address is why now and why this plan.”
Even without a clear view of what these two huge projects will look like, concern with how to keep things at the lowest cost possible and not compromising the goals for the district may be the board’s biggest challenge.
“The struggle is going to be budget,” said Brown “I think that’s where we need help in figuring out what we want to squeeze into this process.”