Board votes 4-3 to spend $75,000 on school plans

Planning process would take eight weeks, Dickinson says.

By EVAN YOUNG

The Mehlville Board of Education recently approved a proposal from Dickinson Hussman Architects to spend $75,000 for conceptual master planning for improvements to five schools as part of the district’s long-range plan.

Board members voted 4-3 on May 27 to authorize Dickinson Hussman to provide a master plan and cost estimates for improvements to three middle schools and two elementary schools as part of COMPASS II — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools. Board Vice President Venki Palamand and board members Micheal Ocello and Erin Weber were opposed.

Dickinson Hussman will develop a master plan and cost estimates for improvements to all five schools.

Besides the $75,000, the district will pay the architectural firm’s expenses.

The planning process would take roughly eight weeks, Dickinson Hussman principal Dwight Dickinson told the board May 27.

The COMPASS II long-range plan outlines renovations at Bierbaum and Trautwein elementary schools and significant improvements at Buerkle, Oakville and Washington middle schools. The proposed improvements to the middle schools are designed to give them parity with Bernard Middle School, which was built in 2003.

The school board likely will consider whether to adopt the COMPASS II plan — with operating and capital recommendations totaling more than $107 million — this month.

If the plan is adopted, the board is expected to authorize a community telephone survey to determine how much of a tax-rate increase, if any, district voters would support in the November election to fund some or all of those recommendations.

Although he is not opposed to having a master plan for the five schools, Ocello said the board was “putting the cart before the horse” by spending thousands of dollars related to building improvements without knowing whether the community would support them at the polls.

“If the survey says the best we’re going to do is break even, then we’ve just wasted $75,000,” Ocello said.

He also noted the board earlier in the meeting approved a list of items totaling nearly $7 million that the district could cut or reduce in the event of a budget crunch over the next three years.

“We’ll do the best we can with the money we have, and that’s what everybody else is doing,” Ocello said. “Unless I can see that it makes sense to spend this money today, I don’t want to spend it.”

COMPASS II Facilitating Team Co-Chair Dan Fowler said it wouldn’t be feasible to conduct the community survey before proceeding with a master plan as the survey results likely would not be available until late July. The deadline to place proposals on the Nov. 2 general election ballot is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24.

“We wouldn’t have time to formulate hard numbers,” Fowler said.

If a referendum were placed on the ballot, the master plan would help the district educate the community about what improvements are needed at the five schools — and exactly how much they will cost, he said.

“It holds you accountable,” Fowler told the board. “You cannot put something on the ballot without a plan, and then after it passes run out of money or do something that wasn’t in the plan.”

Even if a referendum doesn’t pass in November, the master plan still would serve as a “road map” for several years to come, he said.

“It will be a good plan that you can do in phases or all at once,” he said. “Maybe you don’t have enough money for the elementary schools, but you still have a master plan that can be phased in.”