A small group of citizens seemed pleased Tuesday with the recommended plan for improvements to the elementary system at Hastings Public Schools.
A public forum held at the Hastings Middle School was a chance for patrons to learn more about a possible $21.5 project to renovate and expand five of the district’s six elementary sites.
The proposal, which came about after a year of work by a Community Facilities Advisory Committee, recommends that Alcott and Longfellow, two of the oldest buildings, would receive major renovations and additions. Hawthorne, Lincoln and Watson, three of the newest buildings, would each receive additions to hold more students.
The sixth building, Morton Elementary, would be used as an elementary during a transition phase and then possibly be a future site of a preschool center for the district.
“I love the idea that you’re keeping the old buildings,” said Hastings resident Amy Hermes. “I think it’s a great idea.”
With Alcott and Longfellow, the buildings would expand some; however, the bulk of the work at these two buildings would be to replace all the utilities from boilers to the sewer lines. Classrooms would be resized and offices would be moved.
“This is not paint and posters. These buildings are stripped down,” said Trent Kelly, the district’s director of operations and technology.
Much of the utilities could be put into the ceilings and hidden from sight while still giving maintenance staff easy access to the lines.
“This is the major renovation in these buildings,” Kelly said. “Structural engineers say these buildings will last forever. Forever is a long time, but they aren’t going to fall down for a long time.”
The buildings also would be brought up to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including the addition of elevators and other requirements.
In addition to the major renovations at those buildings, the proposal also includes adding classrooms at the Hawthorne, Lincoln and Watson sites.
The goal is for each elementary site to house three sections of each grade — meaning there would be three classrooms of kindergarten in each building and so on.
This would not be a major change for most buildings as most already house at least two sections of each grade. It would be a big change at Watson Elementary, though, as it currently serves only one section of each grade.
Hermes, who lives in the Watson area, said she was mixed on the idea but supported increasing the student population there.
“I came from a small school so I like the smallness of it, but they’re going to get thrown into the middle school so they might as well get used to it,” she said of students.
The patrons had questions about the movement of students during this time and where exactly Alcott and Longfellow students would go while their buildings are under construction.
Kautz said committee members were clear in stating that they didn’t want to put money into temporary classrooms either through modulars or through investing in space at the Adams County Fairgrounds or the Imperial Mall.
The plan instead is for the expansions at Watson, Hawthorne and Lincoln to take place first with the renovations coming later in what could be up to an eight-year project.
While Alcott is under construction, students there may be bused to either Morton or Watson. The decision on how the transition would exactly work is still up in the air but the district most likely would provide busing from Alcott to the temporary destination during that time.
The same would be true of the Longfellow renovation.
The transition plans are still tentative, Kautz said, but he believes the Hastings Board of Education should have the final say on the construction schedule and transition plan. Those decisions likely would not be made until the project is approved by the community.
Kautz told the group that a phone survey of the community will take place sometime within the next month, allowing the district to get a feel for what people think of the plan.
If a majority of people seem supportive of the idea, a recommendation would be taken to the Hastings Board of Education in December or January for them to vote on moving forward with a bond issue. That bond, estimated at $21.5 million, likely would go before voters in May 2014.
However, if the majority of people don’t support the idea, Kautz said the committee will go back to the drawing board.
“Here’s the one thing we don’t want to do,” he said. “The old way in Nebraska is to put a bond issue before a community, and if it fails, then you start listening to the community. We don’t want to do that. We’re trying to avoid all that.”
Kautz said he believes this is the right time for the community to focus on the elementary site needs. As for the plan, he said only time and the results of the survey will tell if this is the best plan for the community.
Kautz encouraged members of the public to contact him with their thoughts on the plan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.