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Options to fix, renovate or replace Charles City High School discussed at public meeting

Options to fix, renovate or replace Charles City High School discussed at public meeting
Laura Peterson, an architect, senior associate and educational planner with Invision, goes through some of the information regarding the current state of the Charles City High School facilities, during a public meeting held this week to discuss options. Press photo by Bob Steenson
Options to fix, renovate or replace Charles City High School discussed at public meeting
About 45 people attend a public meeting held Tuesday evening at the Charles City High School, regarding the current state of the high school, and options to fix, renovate or replace the facility. Press photo by Bob Steenson
Options to fix, renovate or replace Charles City High School discussed at public meeting
Brad Leeper, a partner and architect with Invision Architecture of Des Moines and Waterloo, discusses options and the decision-making process regarding possible construction projects dealing with the Charles City High School, during a public meeting held at the high school Tuesday evening. About 45 people attended. Press photo by Bob Steenson
By Bob Steenson, [email protected]ess.com

There are three possible options to address facilities needs at the Charles City High School, a group of architectural, construction and communications professionals told a meeting of school district residents Tuesday evening.

Those options and the potential costs are:

• Fixing critical items at the high school – $13.47 million to  $17.73 million.

• “Reimagining” the existing facilities with some renovation and some new construction – $28.42 million to $32.98 million.

• Replacing a majority of the high school – $33.95 million to $37.92 million.

There’s also another option, said Brad Leeper, a partner and architect with Invision Architecture of Des Moines and Waterloo. That’s to do nothing.

“That is certainly an option,” Leeper said. “We have some needs here that have been clearly identified, but ultimately this is your community and you guys need to decide how to address these issues most strategically for the future.”

But there is also a cost with doing nothing, he said, because eventually the facilities needs at the high school are going to have to be addressed, and the longer it waits, the more expensive it will be, especially with current inflation rates in construction costs.

The rate of construction cost increases may slow, but those costs will likely never go back down, he said.

Leeper said Invision was asked about a year ago by the Charles City Board of Education to assess the current condition of the high school facilities, what the needs are, “and what is the vision for it moving forward?”

“We’ve had hundreds of meetings to get a sense of that for your community,” Leeper said, including community forums and meetings with students and all the teachers and other staff.

“And we have a community-led task force that has been giving us feedback about what they believe is important, and we’ve had some tough conversations along the way about what’s right here,” he said.

Based on the the input from the meeting Tuesday night and potentially additional online public input, the Board of Education will make a decision whether to proceed with a project, Leeper said.

Laura Peterson, an architect, senior associate and educational planner with Invision, said they looked at how much space is needed for various educational activities, and found the amount of space per student in the middle school and high school is really pretty good.

The question is, “do we have the right kind of spaces?” Peterson said.

Among the things that are working with the current facility that are worth keeping are the science rooms, art wing and Comet Cafe, she said.

“We hear great things about the CTE (career and technical education) spaces you have back here. They’re great big spaces with great access, so the volume of space you have there is good,” she said.

“Students love that you have kind of the middle of the circles where someone can study and hang out. They love the Daily Grind, which is a program where special needs students are making coffee.”

What’s not working?

“Really poor ventilation throughout the building, really bad heating and cooling throughout,” she said students and staff identified.

“We heard a lot about fundamental things. You have electrical conduits that are collapsing under the floors. You have steam coming up in the back of the CTE spaces,” she said.

Other things identified include the lack of daylight in the building, the pie-shaped rooms in the circles being inflexible as far as changing classroom layouts, lack of supervision because of not being able to see around the curved hallways, too much sound passing between classrooms, music spaces too small for the number of students involved, Peterson said.

“I’d ask you to ask any teacher in here and they could probably give you a whole list of things in the building that they’re struggling with,” she said.

Students described the building as hot, old, big, outdated and confusing to get around, Peterson said.

Things that are needed include spaces where groups can study where they don’t interfere with each other, and places where students can study individually, and just a better mesh with the types of instruction and variety of services schools are tasked with providing today, she said.

They also could address a concern that middle school and high school students mingle too much now, because middle school students are using some common spaces in the high school, “so we have a lot of cross of those two populations,” Peterson said.

Some spaces like music rehearsal spaces, exploratory spaces, talented and gifted programs and gym and practice spaces make sense to be shared, but they should be in an area between middle school and high school rather than middle school students having to travel through the high school to get to those areas.

Enrollment has been fairly stable for the last decade, Peterson said, and there has been an uptick in recent years, so all their discussions and plans have been based on a student population about where it is now.

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