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A few rooms will have big impact at schools

Posted 1/19/16 (Tue)

A few rooms will have big impact at schools

This is the second of three parts.
By Cecile Krimm
There are times when teachers and students at Divide County Elementary school cannot hear themselves think -- let alone learn anything.
“Some days we can hear boom whackers and recorders -- that is like the worst day ever,” said Kaylee Zorc, whose classroom has the dubious distinction of being next door to the music room.
Students hear the same songs over and over and Zorc said there’s no doubt it has an effect on her class.
“You can tell the kids are more hyper, depending on what they’re playing,” she said.
Teacher Rayme Clark has a different distraction next door. Her room sits next to the special ed resource room.
“Sometimes it feels like the walls are going to fall down,” said Clark.
Her room gets some noise from the music room, too.
The remedy, as laid out in a $9.9 million school addition and renovation plan set for a bond vote on Tuesday, Feb. 9, is to add four classrooms at the elementary school and three to five more at the high school.
That may not sound like a great deal of extra space, but it’s enough, said Superintendent Sherlock Hirning, to allow for many changes within the existing footprint of each building, all aimed at better serving the needs of today’s students.
Elementary layout
Starting at the main entry of the elementary building, a new joint principal and secretary’s office will be created to the right of the entry way.
It will allow for better communication between staff and also provide an area for the specific use of students serving in-school suspensions.
The former secretary’s office will become a speech therapy room.
At the spot near the south staircase into the lunchroom, an elevator will be put in with service to all three floors. Changes within the lunchroom space itself are also planned, including the removal of a planetarium that has seen little use.
Installation of the elevator will require a different storage space for band instruments, which will be moved after the renovation to one of four new classrooms to be constructed on the north side of the building.
The new music room will host both music education classes for all students as well as provide space for band practices -- taking band out of the lunchroom for good.
Another of the new rooms will serve as a science lab, which is important, said Hirning, given the increasing emphasis these days on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programming. Currently, science classes consist of book material only, with little ability to conduct any experiments.
The new lab will give students the ability to learn about science with much more hands on activity.
“They’re really pushing us to include it now as low as third grade,” said Hirning.
A third new room will house the computer lab and a fourth will house either a kindergarten or first grade class.
The space freed up will allow for a special ed resource room with its own handicap accessible bathrooms along with smaller instruction areas to work one on one with students and also to provide areas where students can be segregated when quiet time is needed.
As it is now, students in need of tutoring have no place to work privately or in small groups.
“There’s times of the day when every room is busy and there’s no place to put them but the hallways,” said Hirning, or even under a stairwell.
High School needs
Needs at the high school are just as great and also more expensive. About the same space will be added at the high school, but areas in need of renovation cover much more square footage.
As School Board President Pete Fagerbakke points out, the needs at the elementary may seem more pressing today, but “we will have many more kids in that high school in the next three or four years.”
The need for more individualized areas for the use of special ed students is the same as at the elementary.
Many times, said Hirning there may be five or six students in the special ed room, all working at different levels.
The addition of classrooms at the high school will allow for the special ed rooms to be moved closer to the counseling and principal’s office.
“We are proposing  to add three  classrooms at the high school and a boys and a girls’ bathroom, with the option of considering one or two  additional classrooms as alternates in our bidding process,” said Hirning.
Renovations at the high school also call for the upgrading of existing bathrooms to be Americans With Disabilities Act compliant and the addition of new bathrooms on the north end. 
A secondary gym is still in the master plan as something to work toward in the future, but is not anticipated to be included in the current building project. What is included, however, is a new exercise area designed to tie in with a future secondary gym.
Until it is built, however, the district can only store new fitness equipment received in a grant.
Also needed at the high school is a re-working of the administration area to allow for better security of visitors and students coming and going. Also, a rehab of the kitchen, including moving refrigeration  into the atrium area to the east to free up space in the existing footprint of the kitchen.
Overlaying all of this is the need for a new heating system at both buildings, a part of the project that must  proceed no matter what happens with the bond issue.
Hirning said absentee ballots are already available at the district office for those who cannot vote on Feb. 9.
As well, the first of two informational meetings will be held tomorrow night at 7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 21 at the Noonan Community Center. A second meeting is planned for Monday, Feb. 1 in the auditorium at Divide County High School.
Sidebar on financing
A proposed $9.9 million building project in the Divide County School District could wind up costing patrons only pennies per day.
After much deliberation, said School Board Member Holly Krecklau, “You have to find that dollar amount everyone’s going to comfortable with.”
Compared to the tax burden of a project double the cost last year, the board believes they have found a figure that will be hard for voters to deny.
According to figures required to be published ahead of the bond vote Feb. 9, an average homeowner in the district can expect to pay $95 more per year if the bond passes. This would equate to about 27 cents per day, per household.
However, the actual cost could be even less -- potentially as little as $65 more per year and just 19 cents per day if other anticipated funds can be directed to the debt.
As Superintendent Sherlock Hirning explained to members of the Crosby Area Chamber earlier this month, “We’re sure we are not going to have to ask the public to pay the entire annual payment at least for the first two years,” but the state requires the district to seek the authority to bond for the full amount.
The annual estimated tax increase on the average acre of cropland in the county is 57 cents per acre; and on non-cropland, 21 cents. Those figures could also drop, potentially, by a third, if the district is successful in directing funds other than loansed money to the project.