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Bob Felde comment: "Decorah needs to plan for the future of its elementary school facilities"

Posted: Wed, Jul 10, 2013 4:08 PM

--by's Bob Felde: has been posting several news stories about the accomplishments of Decorah School District students.   An example is the news that Decorah High School was rated the #2 high school in the state. Wow! But that hasn't just been an accident. It has come with a lot of commitments, dedication and planning on many fronts. And now is the time to extend that thinking to the elementary school level.

In May I heard StruXture Architects present several options to the Decorah Community School Board regarding the aging and outdated elementary school facilities.  Many issues surfaced, including serious space deficiencies, both inside and out; inability to address safety and security issues in the current facilities; traffic and parking problems; deteriorating facilities (well maintained, but dated); lack of adequate HVAC systems; lack of sprinkler systems; inadequate electrical systems, and serious bathroom and accessibility problems.  The architects spoke often of facilities that would not be close to meeting today's required standards. They kindly added that "staff make the most of it."

The first option presented by StruXture was to simply address the HVAC deficiencies of John Cline and West Side. This option seriously fails to address any direct programmatic or safety needs. The elementary buildings are clearly the most vulnerable school buildings in terms of storm safety and we are well aware of the Oklahoma school tragedies this year.

A second option involved massive renovations and potential spaces additions to the elementary facilities. This sounds a bit more educationally centered, but minimal scrutiny suggests that construction and renovation to aging elementary sites adds a domino effect in terms of building code compliance issues. While the high school renovation was accomplished very successfully as students and teachers adeptly performed juggling feats to arrange educational activities around construction, that scenario simply could not happen in the current elementary settings. Does anyone remember the trailers next to Carrie Lee?

Although the massive renovation plan could meet some "50 year long term potential," it does so by cramping already overcrowded indoor and outdoor space, and doesn't come close to addressing future district needs. If you have been following Decorah school trends, we have already needed to adapt the recently renovated Carrie Lee space to accommodate an additional classroom.  And kindergarten sections have been expanded for next year. Almost any projection suggests growth in the Decorah Schools and we need to plan for that potential growth.

The third option presented by StruXture would allow the District to plan for future expansions, provide enhanced educational opportunities, create architecturally safe and traffic controlled space for students, and open the potential for more community sharing of facilities. This option obviously means a new structure at a new site.

This fall the Shareholders  Group of Decorah Schools (community members) will begin the assessment and information gathering needed as we head into the next (50?) years of Decorah schools. Be ready to give them your input and listen to them as they begin a planning process that will determine our direction for years to come.

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