A Community Facilities Advisory Committee tried to leave no stone unturned in devising a proposal for the future of the elementary system at Hastings Public Schools.
In October, Superintendent Craig Kautz unveiled what he called a tentative recommendation from the committee on the future of the elementary buildings.
“The task laid out to the committee was pretty broad,” said David Brandt, committee co-chair. “It was, ‘What’s the best educational method we can apply within the community of Hastings that would be accepted by patrons and move us forward?’
“Under that umbrella, there’s a lot to take in.”
The district currently has six elementary sites scattered throughout the city, ranging in age from 33 to 87 years.
Under the committee’s proposal, Hawthorne, Lincoln and Watson elementary buildings would be expanded, while Alcott and Longfellow would both be expanded and renovated.
Meanwhile, Morton Elementary would be closed with the option of turning it into a preschool hub for the district.
Many of the members of the Community Facilities Advisory Committee are the same ones who served on it for previous building projects, including the construction of a new middle school and the addition of a science wing at Hastings High.
This particular group began meeting in October 2012.
Patty Kingsley, who co-chairs the committee along with Brandt, said that structurally Alcott, Longfellow and Morton are in fine condition in terms of bricks and mortar.
The concern, she said, is the infrastructure. The utility lines that run through those brick walls are falling apart. As such, she said the buildings don’t run as efficiently as they could.
“We have three aging schools — our historic schools — but the other schools are aging, as well,” Kingsley said. “They’re not perfect, either.”
While the physical structure of the elementary buildings was a major concern, Kingsley said the community’s love of its neighborhood schools also had to be taken into consideration.
“This community in numerous polls has said, ‘This is important to us,’ ” Kingsley said. “I think that we think about elementary students a little bit differently than we do middle school students.”
Even with that in mind, she said the committee tried to look at every conceivable possibility, starting with a one-site elementary and going from there.
“Everybody was excited about possibly a new school, but then where would we build it?” Kingsley said. “That was a huge challenge with the middle school.”
In addition, the committee knew the community would not support a one-site elementary and building one would take a considerable amount of money.
It was only after several months of discussion and analysis of dozens of scenarios that the committee finally came down to its top four scenarios.
The first was to create four separate elementary schools set in the four quadrants of the city, each serving grades kindergarten through fifth grade.
The problem, Kingsley said, is that the district’s elementary buildings don’t fit into a perfect north, south, east and west quadrants.
In the second scenario, there would be four elementary buildings. Two of those would serve students in grades kindergarten through second grade and the other two would serve grades three through five.
The idea was that one of each would be placed on the east side of the city and one set on the west, so that all students could be served in these primary and intermediate schools.
Brandt said he came to support the idea because so many people say that a student-teacher relationship of 20-to-1 in a classroom is optimum for both students and teachers. Under this arrangement, for example, putting half of the district’s kindergartners in one building would make dividing students into equal class sizes that much easier, he said.
However, the group realized there are so many other variables that come into play, including this would be inconvenient for some families.
“But then you’ve got to bus and you’re splitting families,” Kingsley said. “And you might have parents dropping off kids at four different sites.”
The third concept the committee looked at was leaving the six elementary sites as is with some improvements.
“The six-school model is kind of trying to tweak what we have now,” Brandt said. “That one isn’t very efficient and isn’t the most effective use of the resources.”
So that’s how the committee came to settle on the fourth idea.
Brandt said the idea of the five-school model had several positives aspects that kept seeping to the surface for the committee.
“It drives efficiency, effectiveness,” he said. “It allows us to do fiscally what we can to the schools to address them. We can push that forward and try to be the most effective stewards of the taxpayers dollars as we can.”