Board considers new building

A brand new elementary school building is one of five options on the table, as trustees and administrators for Big Horn County School District No. 2 face the reality that the student population is expected to outgrow its current facility in the next five years. To compound matters, recent engineering inspections have uncovered safety concerns in the Lovell school’s cafeteria that must be addressed as soon as possible.

Architect Brandon Daigle of MOA Architecture’s regional office in Casper presented the details of a recent capacity study to the Big Horn County School District No. 2 Board of Trustees on Monday night. The study looked at projected enrollments for the next 10 years and current usage of the facility. Daigle presented five different ideas to the board, including both short-term and long-term solutions. The discussion focused on long-term solutions. Three of those options involve varying degrees of renovation. One suggests the district build a completely new school at a nearby location. The study projected construction to be complete by the year 2018.

BHCSD#2-logoCOLORAmong the renovation options, the reported stated the “most desirable” involved extensive renovation of the current facility including the addition of square footage that would include more kindergarten and special education classrooms adjacent to the current building and a new cafeteria addition. Once the new cafeteria is built, the old cafeteria would be demolished.

The building has a capacity of 355 students. The current population of students is 339. The study, which was conducted on behalf of the state’s School Facilities Dept. (SFD), projects that the student population will begin to outgrow the facility as soon as 2018, when it reaches a population of around 362 students. Based on conclusions reached in the study, the population is expected to continue to grow each year for another five years, reaching a population of 401 students by the year 2023 and 413 students by the year 2025.

The study took into account some of the “district specific unique issues,” including the schools relatively large special needs student population. It noted that 82 of the 329 currently enrolled students attending LES are on individual education plans, with 22 of those students occupying as much as 39 percent of their day in a “resource setting.”

Several of the students have the need for life skills instruction, self-contained programming and intensive behavioral intervention, the report stated. Those students are currently bussed to the middle school to work on life skills. At times, “makeshift” facilities are being created to accommodate some of their special needs.

Following a study of the current cafeteria, its “structural integrity” was called into question. The kitchen is a major issue in that it serves the entire school district and must continue its operation until a new kitchen is built to replace it. This would require it to be built in a location other than its current location.

The school currently has 20 classrooms, including four kindergarten classrooms, four first grade classrooms and three classrooms each for grades 2 through 5. The study projects a need for 26 classrooms by the year 2023.

A discussion of various options ensued during the meeting with the firm ultimately recommending building a new school. Some of the reasons for the recommendation included the fact that part of the school was built in the 40s and cannot be fully renovated due to structural issues that do not allow moving walls.  Another reason cited was the need for extensive maintenance anticipated over the next 10 years like a new roof, new windows, carpet and other expensive upgrades.

When asked, Daigle said he felt a new building would be the best solution in the long run because it could actually end up costing less when upkeep of the old facility is taken into consideration. He also noted that newer buildings are designed for future expansion if needed. Since it would be built at another location, it would be less disruption to the students. Location of that building would be either on the same lot, near the current building or on land owned by the district located near the middle school.

Some of the other pros to building an entirely new building included the opportunity to size the school and classrooms appropriately and to design better special education work areas specific to the program. Space would be used more efficiently and would take into consideration “21st century learning concepts.” The process would be continuous, not phased. It would allow all of the classrooms to have daylight and views to the outside. Currently, some rooms do not have windows.

The cons were that it would be (at least initially) the most expensive solution at $20,425,770, compared to $12,743,486 for the extensive renovation option recommended by the study.

After a lengthy discussion, the board voted to submit an application to the SFD requesting a new building as its first option, with the recommended renovation option as a backup in the event a new building was request was rejected by the SFD.

Due to the condition of the current cafeteria, the project is considered a high priority and Supt. Rick Woodford said the request needed to be submitted as early as this week to meet the recommended construction timeline.

By Patti Carpenter