May 27, 2024

More master planning survey results bring in new scenarios

Newton school board still undecided, future work session may finally move district forward

Rachelle Hines of FRK Architects + Engineers speaks to Newton school board members during the May 22 meeting at Aurora Heights Elementary School.

Further survey results show teachers and community members either prefer the Newton school district close two buildings and add a preK through kindergarten center at Emerson Hough and construct a new elementary school at the Aurora Heights location, or they don’t prefer any of the four scenarios presented to them.

Interestingly, the scenario that received the most support is also the most expensive with an estimated $40 million in upfront costs.

Rachelle Hines of FRK Architects + Engineers showed school board members the most recent master planning survey results at their May 22 meeting. The survey group consisted of 14 community members and 13 teachers/instructional leaders. Each building was represented by at least one staff member.

“We divided them into groups, we mixed them up … and we presented four options to them, two of which you guys have already seen and then two other ones that were recommended to them,” Hines said, noting that each participant was made aware of core values to be considered in making their decisions.

The core values were determined by the initial master planning group, which identified the importance of: quality learning and a safe and inclusive setting, instruction that allows students to compete in workforce or future training and college, innovation and building bridges between various school groups.

Here are the four scenarios and upfront costs and descriptions of how these ideas would pan out for district buildings:

• Scenario A: PreK-K center at Emerson Hough and a new grades 1-4, nine-section elementary at Aurora Heights site, which would require demolishing the original building. The school district would sell Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Willson sites for redevelopment. Estimated costs: $40 million.

• Scenario B: PreK-1 center at Emerson Hough and a grades 2-4 elementary at Aurora Heights site, which would only include an addition and remodel of the building. The school district would still sell Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson sites for redevelopment. Estimated costs: $20 million.

• Scenario C: K-4 elementary at Emerson Hough, K-4 elementary at Aurora Heights and PreK center at Woodrow Wilson. Emerson Hough and Aurora Heights would see new additions and remodeling. PreK center at Woodrow Wilson would be renovation or built new. Estimated costs: $25 million.

• Scenario D: PreK-4 elementary and preschool at Emerson Hough and K-4 elementary at Aurora Heights, both of which would need new additions and renovations. The school district would also sell Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson sites for redevelopment. Estimated costs: $24 million.

According to the information collected by FRK, the survey takers preferred Scenario A above all others. But the group also noted it did not prefer any of the options. Scenario D was preferred over Scenario B, and Scenario C did not receive any support whatsoever. Pros and cons were listed for each option.

The survey takers said Scenario A provides cost savings, similar experiences to all students in the district and allows innovation in delivering education per level. Students will also know more people their age as they progress into future buildings/levels. There would also be fewer “big” kids mixing with preK-K levels.

More even class sizes at elementary level, equal culture and resources for levels and students and the possibility of helping with professional learning community processes were also identified as upsides to Scenario A.

Of course there were downsides to the most popular option. Class sizes would be bigger compared to class sizes now. Kindergarten would be separated from first grade, meaning less collaborations. Most, if not all, kids will be on the bus to get to school. It would also add another building transition to the process.

Other potential cons include the wasted space on the second floor of Emerson Hough, and what the district might stick in there in the future may not be compatible for the building. The group also determined that preK and kindergarten programs aren’t suited well together.

Scenario C, the most disliked option, was considered more as a band-aid solution. Others felt the option put all the buildings on one end of town, there was potential for students to have different experiences in elementary buildings and the new building just for preK benefits the least amount students.

The group also felt it might be a problem if the school loses funding for preK, and it does not fix the fifth grade transition problem the district has.

The school board is still undecided on which scenario to choose. Hines said officials can still talk to or seek feedback from more individuals, but at this point there have been four sessions devoted to bringing in more information. Any more delays could alienate those who put in all this work, as well as the community.

Robyn Friedman, president of the Newton school board, said a work session is needed in the near future for officials to debate their options.

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.