Most of the proposed $6.5 million redevelopment of Longfellow Elementary would involve upgrading the building’s utility and climate control infrastructure without disturbing much of its historic integrity and distinctive physical characteristics.
At least that’s the plan offered by a Community Facilities Advisory Committee that spent a year evaluating the elementary system at Hastings Public Schools before offering its recommendation to school officials.
In October, Superintendent Craig Kautz revealed the local advisory committee’s recommendations for the future of the elementary buildings.
Under the committee’s proposal, the Hawthorne, Lincoln and Watson elementary buildings would be expanded, while Alcott and Longfellow would be expanded and renovated.
Meanwhile, Morton Elementary would be closed with the option of turning it into a preschool hub for the district as well as other uses.
Under the proposal, the historic columns that face Ninth Street and the spacious library inside Longfellow, which was built in the mid-1920s, would remain untouched.
However, all of the classrooms and office spaces would be gutted and rebuilt with the addition of utilities, including new air conditioning, new wiring and new plumbing.
Longfellow, which is the largest elementary building in the district, doesn’t need any additional classrooms, as it already serves three sections of each grade. The proposed expansion part of the project would focus primarily on a new gymnasium to be built on the south side of the building. The current gymnasium shares space with the lunchroom, meaning that lunch and PE classes often overlap, which causes scheduling issues.
In addition to the new gymnasium, kitchen space would be built onto the cafeteria area and the school’s offices would be moved next to the building’s main entrance.
“The goal is to restructure the interior to get best classroom space we can and to create actual offices where offices should be,” Kautz said.
The architects and others involved in the planning process had hoped that the building’s original entrance along Ninth Street once again could become the building’s main entrance. However, due to the drop-off and pick-up situation with students, it was determined that putting that much traffic onto Ninth Street would not work.
Instead, the main entrance, which hasn’t been determined, would be on the east or west side of the building.
By today’s standards, Kautz said, the Longfellow, Alcott and Morton elementary sites are considered inadequate for a school.
Part of the reason is that there is no extra space to create driveways to help get cars off the street and create safer drop-off and pick-up points.
“Today’s elementary buildings typically start with five acres and for every 100 students you add an acre,” Kautz said.
Longfellow sits on a space that is only about 2.6 acres total.
The difference between today’s standards and those when Longfellow was built are that years ago most students walked to school. Today, Kautz estimates that as many as 90 percent of elementary students in the district are brought to school by vehicle.
“So the 10-acre site allows you to create structures to manage the traffic,” he said.
Unfortunately, he said, there is no way to expand the Longfellow site, as it is landlocked.
Kautz said the new plan for Longfellow will include ways to help address traffic congestion. However, he said drivers need to always be aware of small children and other pedestrians.