Herald Journal Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, March 18, 2002

Large scale remodeling not likely for HLWW facilities

By Lynda Jensen

Large-scale remodeling is nearly out of the question for the existing facilities of the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school district, following a visit Monday from the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning (CFL).

Board members were given state guidelines on remodeling and new building projects by CFL Representative Bob Buresh.

Buresh told the board that the state would not allow the school district to renovate existing buildings on a large scale unless an additional 30 acres or more could be added to the structures, in order to bring the buildings up to state expectations.

School districts' plans for construction projects in excess of $500,000 must be approved by the state, Buresh said.

In addition, when the cost of renovating approaches 60 percent of its replacement cost, the state recommends the district to build new, he said.

The question would be whether it could be cost effective to renovate when the numbers go this high, unless the district can make a case for it, he said.

Buresh gave a list of 13 items, ranging from indoor air quality to the square footage of rooms, that the state requires.

The state strongly suggests setting aside the following acreage for new construction:

· 10 to 15 acres for an elementary school

· 25 to 35 acres for a middle school

· and 35 to 40 acres for a high school with less than 2,000 students.

These figures do not include an additional acre per 100 students, he added.

These figures are for new construction and not remodeling, he said.

The guidelines are specific to communities, since there have been some exceptions to the acreage rule, he said.

"There are certain circumstances like Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth for example, that could never meet these new construction requirements," he said. "The land is just not there."

However, when land is available, the state expects the district to meet these requirements, he said.

The state will not allow a political reason, such as three communities disagreeing about the site location, to be an exception to the acreage rule, Buresh said.

The state has guidelines for remodeling as well, he said.

The remodeling question

Buresh indicated that the Howard Lake buildings are undersized in every way, both inside and out, and in regards to acreage. He gave them a grade of C- or D for overall structure.

"In essence you're telling us that this site right here (the high school building) would not be usable," Board Member John Lideen said.

"Yes," Buresh said. "Unless you can add 30 adjacent acres or more," for a high school site, he said.

"How about for a middle school?" Lideen asked.

"You're not even close," for acreage, Buresh said.

Borrell asked about building a two story building.

This would be feasible, although the acreage requirements would be the same, he said. K-2 must be on main level for fire safety reasons, Buresh said.

Borrell suggested an interim solution before building a school down the road.

Borrell expressed the desire to convert Humphrey Elementary into a middle school by making an addition, plus an elementary. This would make two elementaries, one at Waverly and the other at Winsted, with Howard Lake as the high school.

The Waverly structure could eventually be converted into a junior high until the new facility would be built down the road at a location to be determined, Borrell said.

"Can you add acreage in Waverly?" Buresh asked.

"No," Raymond said.

"One simple sentence will answer that," Weber said. "You're throwing good money after bad."

"That's not true," Borrell said. "We need to do something with our elementaries anyway," Borrell said.

Weber suggested that the board should build a new k-12 school.

Reconfiguring small classrooms would amount to a major remodeling project, Fowler pointed out.

Borrell asked Buresh about converting Humphrey into a middle school.

"Not at three acres it won't," Buresh said. "You'd still have to add substantial acres." Buresh suggested Waverly possibly becoming an elementary school, but even so, this would be a problem to do, he said.

There is no land available at Waverly, Raymond said.

Lideen asked Buresh if he visited the Winsted site, to which he answered no.

"We have a lot of acreage down there and that would be interesting to find out more about that," Lideen said.

The state requires the square footage to be upgraded to its suggested size for a major remodeling project, Buresh said.

Lideen pointed out that it depended on what the rooms were used for.

Buresh suggested that three rooms could be made into two as part of a remodeling plan. There is also a way of taking three rooms and making the third room a resource room, he added.

"We need a creative architect is what you're telling us," Lideen said to Buresh.

At a crossroads

Outdated facilities definitely impact open enrollment, Buresh said. "It's a pretty significant disadvantage," he said.

Buresh noted neighboring schools outclass HLWW with better facilities, such as Buffalo High School.

Buresh described the Howard Lake buildings and Humphrey as "pint sized," but nicely updated and well kept.

"I've never seen a school consistently under-sized across the board," Buresh said. Everything from the auditorium, to choir and band rooms, and classrooms are grossly undersized, he said.

"You've done a lot of good fixing up," he said. He commended the district for "getting a lot of bang for the buck" and stretching its dollars well when it came to facilities in compliance with state requirements.

"I think you're at a crossroads. The good news is that you've really gotten your bang for the buck, you've really stretched your dollars. The bad news is that you've under-invested in the quality of your facilities," Buresh said.

"Schools can either be a magnet or a turnoff," he said. The prosperity of the region along Highway 12 would reflect in the school as well, he added.

The district would probably want to build sooner than later to stop losing students to open enrollment, he said.

He's seen many different pairings and consolidations of several communities, Buresh said.

"Sometimes you wouldn't believe how well it's worked," he said."And other times, they've fought before, during and after ­ and facilities can be a focus of that fight," Buresh said.

"Not for the kids," Buresh continued. Adults care more about their own feelings for the school, he said. "It's adult level conflict over the school."

"The challenge for any multi-community setting is to come together on the cause of facilities, versus fighting over the location.

Fighting over the location takes the priority over the quality of facilities, which in the end contributes significantly to the quality of education. Then you're going to have a lot of problems with progress," Buresh said.

Board members pressed him to give an opinion about what to do with the HLWW building situation, although he was reluctant to do this because he was not an architect and could not crunch numbers for what the alternatives may be, he said.

Buresh conceded that it would make more sense to build a high school first than a middle school in order to save money, although he cautioned the board that each case is unique to the community, he said.

"The decision is up to the community," he said. "I'm not saying it's right, I'm saying that's what usually happens," he said.

Zimmermann asked how long the district could go before the state would force the district to build.

"You can limp along for quite some time," Buresh said. The school buildings do not break state fire codes or that kind of thing, he said.

Lideen asked how to compete against private schools, however, Buresh declined to give an opinion since he had no personal experience in this area.

Changing guidelines

Guidelines are changing with the times, Buresh said.

Reasons that the square footage guideline increased over the years include the impact of technology, and recreation, among other reasons.

"In 1971 you didn't have to worry about a computer lab, least of all computers in the classroom," he commented. "Now, it's everywhere."

Emerging issues include classroom acoustics, he said. "We don't have a lot of rules and regulations yet, but we will," he said. "Kids who sit at the front of the classroom have a real advantage It makes a difference in achievement." Acoustics level the playing field, he said.

He also cited research on lighting and how it makes a difference on achievement.

School districts can attempt to skimp on size in other areas, except for classrooms and media centers, he said. These two items are considered critical, since students spend so much time there, he said.

In addition, schools always grow and small rooms do not accommodate larger class sizes, which seems to happen so often, he said.

"Do facilities make a difference? Yes they do," Buresh said.

However, he indicated the size of a school made no difference in the quality of education.

"I've seen lousy big schools and lousy small schools," he said. "It comes down to good staff and a good board," he said.

"In a three-way government, it's very complicated. It's very unpredictable," Buresh said.

Ideas may be submitted to the state for opinions, Buresh said, but they must be in conjunction with an architect and costed out.

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