Facilities to be focus of June 4 community-engagement session

Presentation on school district’s facilities sparks pointed questions from Facilitating Team


The Mehlville School District’s facilities will be the focus of a community-engagement session that will take place next week.

The third of 11 community-engagement sessions will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, June 4, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road.

Members of the Long Range Facilities Master Planning Committee for COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — will make a presentation during Monday’s community-engagement session. But the presentation likely will differ from the one heard last week by the COMPASS Facilitating Team.

The Facilitating Team is charged with formulating residents’ concerns and suggestions for the future of the district into recommendations that will be presented to the Board of Education in May 2008.

Co-chairs of the Facilitating Team are Dan Fowler, a former school-board member, and Jim Schibig, a former Beasley Elementary School principal. The team includes residents, teachers, students, school-board members, educational planning advisers and other district representatives.

During a May 21 meeting of the Facilitating Team, members heard a presentation about the district’s facilities from Dwight Dickinson and Don Hussman of Dickinson Hussman Architects; Daniel Keck, an educational planning consultant; and Karen Johnson, an interior planner and regional representative for the Council of Educational Facility Planners International.

Dickinson recapped the district’s Proposition P districtwide building improvement program, which was approved by Mehlville voters in November 2000.

Though a great deal of work was accomplished with Proposition P, Dickinson noted that projects totaling $60 million to $75 million remain to be done. Some of those improvements include upgrading district libraries, relocating the district’s bus facility currently at Mehlville Senior High School and purchasing land for future facility improvements.

But he also said that in today’s dollars, those unfinished projects total $80 million to $100 million.

Facilitating Team member Paul Goldak asked, “That’s on top of what was spent out of Prop P?”

Dickinson said, “Yes.”

Goldak said, “So we spent …”

Dickinson said, “Eighty-six million (dollars).”

Goldak continued, “And we need another $80 million to $100 million, so we’re talking about going to the board for $100 million at one time and now you’re basically saying it’s almost $200 million at one time?”

Dickinson said, “Right. And a lot of that has to do with those cost increases.”

Goldak said, “Those numbers boggle the mind so much they’re almost ineffective.”

Dickinson said, “Right. Yeah, you’re right. And again, what comes out of this planning effort again will be identified and I’m sure out of this planning effort, there are going to be issues that will be prioritized and issues that aren’t going to make that priority list.”

Dan Burns of UNICOM•ARC, a consulting firm assisting the district with the community-engagement process, said, “Paul, are you saying that it sounds like Dwight’s already saying we got an $80 million to a $100 million bond issue already on the table before we start? … That’s kind of what it sounds like, doesn’t it?”’

Goldak said, “People are waiting to hear the direct request for money. They haven’t heard it in the first two meetings. They’re hearing it right now and this is probably not the place that you want it.”

Dickinson said, “That’s fine. We can eliminate that. That’s no problem.”

Burns said, “I think it’s appropriate for you to indicate obviously that there were a number of issues that you were not able to satisfy with Prop P …”

Board of Education Cindy Christopher, who serves on the Facilitating Team, said, “Can’t we leave the issues in there and take the numbers out? …”

Goldak said, “… I think what you just said: There were a number of issues that we knew weren’t going to be addressed in Prop P. Among them are: bing, bing, bing.”

Burns said, “And those will be issues as we do our facilities study and create the master plan. Over the next several months, those will be issues that will be revisited.”

Noting that he had been contacted by a reporter after the first meeting of the Long Range Facilities Master Planning Committee when a similar presentation was made, Fowler said, “… I indicated very strongly that any proposal the Facilities Team would come up with would have to be approved by the Facilitating Team, and I went on to say that the Facilitating Team as I see it is a very conservative group of people. So I talked extensively about that, and, of course, then it has to go to the Board of Education. So no matter what that Facilities Team comes up with — it doesn’t make any difference what the number is — this team here has to approve it before it goes any further. And my guess is it will be a conservative investment in our community…”

Goldak said, “… Up ’til now, we’re sort of feeding the audience issues, which they’re then feeding back to us in terms of recommendations and so forth. Here it almost comes across like we’re telling them this is what it needs — this is what you need and this is how much it’s going to cost.

“We’re not giving them the opportunity to come back to us and say we really need to upgrade our libraries … We’re telling them here as opposed to asking them for their input.”

During her part of the presentation, Johnson discussed such issues as indoor air quality, ventilation, temperature, acoustics, effective lighting and other characteristics of “high-performance schools.”

Of the issues raised by Johnson, Facilitating Team member Keith Benack said, “… She explains that none of the buildings we just paid $85 million for are good enough. She explains that the kids don’t get good air, they don’t think properly, any number of things … By this time, I’m thinking about the $85 million I just spent and I’m listening to the presentation and somebody says that we’re going to build buildings that don’t have to be — that you’re able to change without moving walls. So the next thing in my mind is we’re talking about every building — we have to redo every building. There isn’t a building here that I know of in this school district that is built on a modular basis that you can do that.

“So we finish up, the lights come on and I’m sitting in your auditorium and now I don’t know if I’m supposed to get with a small group or not, but the first thing I want to do is say to every school-board member that I worked for for Proposition P: What the hell did we spend the money on? OK? Or I probably wouldn’t say hell, I’d say heck. What the heck did we spend the money on? All right? …”

Regarding the overall presentation, Goldak later said, “This was good as a progress report of the committee to us, but not as a report to a public session because we could have spent two hours or more and really dug into this and (said) this is really great. But when you’ve got a half an hour to present it to 300 people, not so much.”

Dickinson said, “I think Keith made a good point, too, and as I thought about that as he was talking, a lot of the points that you made, Keith, such as: ‘Oh my God, don’t you tell me you’ve got to tear down every building in the district because it is past its prime and doesn’t accommodate today’s curriculum,’ and I think that’s a good point that should be brought out during the presentation. But we’re not saying that. As a matter of fact, there are examples across the United States where a 40- to 50-year-old building has been modified — that’s a better word to use — to accommodate a lot of the different curriculum needs that are coming to the fore now. And so I think we as the presenting team need to make sure that No. 1, it was a positive outcome that we had in Prop P. There is absolutely no question that when Prop P was done, this school district is head and shoulders above it ever thought possible before, but that was step one.

“Now we’re talking about taking it up to the next level, which we’re going to continue that positive improvement and we’re going to take these 50-year-old buildings and we’re going to show you how they can still be utilized.”

After further discussion, Dickinson and the other presenters said they would tweak their presentation for Monday’s community-engagement session.