Archive for Thursday, February 24, 2005

District reiterates need for new school

February 24, 2005

— In case the message isn't getting across, Lansing school district officials are reiterating the reasons they say voters need to approve a $23.6 million school bond issue this spring.

In a joint study session last week with Lansing City Council members, district officials laid out in no uncertain terms that the current Lansing Elementary School, including the Sally Zoll building, and Lansing Intermediate School are outdated and no longer viable for a classroom setting.

"These buildings are in fair shape but do not meet our needs for educating our children. They lack proper space, bathrooms and other amenities required for educating children in the 21st Century," Superintendent Randal Bagby wrote in a handout distributed at the study session.

The board has put on the April 5 ballot a referendum that contains two components: a new $19.2 million school for kindergartners through fifth graders and a $4.4 million auditorium at Lansing High School.

The elementary school would be located on district-owned land near West Mary Street and the extension of South Bittersweet Street.

At the study session, City Council members and School Board members talked about possible future uses for the buildings if the bond issue is approved.

City Council member Ken Ketchum told board members that spending millions on a new school while converting the Elementary and Intermediate schools for other uses was difficult for members of the public to understand.

"You're going to take a building that can be used for something else and say, 'Well, we can't use that for a classroom.' They're going to find that hard to believe. You're going to have to sell them as to why that particular building will not function for a classroom," Ketchum said.

"I've been in the school up there, and I don't see anything wrong with it," he added. "When I went to school, I went in a school worse than that."

Board member Jack Kochenour noted such perceptions were shared throughout the community but answered Ketchum that "I went to a one-room school."

"It's really important to mention that even though this elementary school looks fine, it is kicking breakers off every single day," Bagby said. "Education has changed so much in the last 30 or 20 years, with all the technology and so forth."

City Council member Robert Ulin questioned board members about whether they planned for growth in the new school beyond its initial construction.

"In other words, you have a core facility that you're going to build now; have you looked in the future at building wings or additions onto it to be able to meet expansion without building a whole new school?" Ulin asked.

Brian Bode, school board vice president, said the proposal would accommodate eight sections of each grade level. Currently, the district has seven sections of grades 1-5.

"The building we have (proposed) will take one more teacher and 20 more kids in every one of those classes," Bode said. "If the city grows in the next 10 or 15 years to where we would have 120 or 130 more elementary kids in that school, they'll fit in that building. That's why we did it that way."

In response to a question from Council President Don Studnicka, Bagby said the board had planned for annual growth in student population of about 3 percent.

As the study session wore on and additional questions about the bond issue were raised, Bagby reminded the audience that the referendum wasn't only about new uses for existing buildings, growth and planning. He talked about the safety component that would be achieved by separating elementary schoolchildren from sharing a campus with high schoolers.

"There's a quality of life, and the key to improving quality of life in Lansing is to fix this atrocious traffic problem that we have with little youngsters walking in between teenage drivers, school buses and a load of parents that are driving in the entire circle on that campus," he said.

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