Knost to recommend funding for $30 million district facilities plan

Proposed Oakville auditorium doesn’t require land purchase

By Gloria Lloyd

Superintendent Eric Knost has already given the Mehlville Board of Education a look at the second phase of his long-term plan for the district, but this week he recommends how to fund the $30 million proposal.

The board is slated to discuss the plan and its funding at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Bierbaum Elementary School Gymnasium, 2050 Union Road.

Bierbaum would get a new library under the plans, which include $8 million for HVAC replacement, a 500-seat auditorium and 75-seat theater at Oakville High School, classroom additions at three schools, an entryway and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant elevator in the Witzel Learning Center and continued funding for the district’s technology and facilities plans.

Knost has so far declined to provide any breakdown of proposed funding for the plan, which could be paid for through a bond issue, refinancing of existing debt or both.

If the entire $30 million cost was included in a bond issue, it would amount to a roughly 15-cent tax-rate increase. Mehlville voters overwhelmingly rejected the last two tax-rate increases on their ballot, a 97-cent increase in 2006 and an 88-cent increase in 2010, and Knost has repeatedly vowed that he would never suggest tax-rate increases of that magnitude.

Mehlville voters have not approved a tax-rate increase since Proposition P in 2000 — a 49-cent tax-rate increase. The money from Prop P went to build Oakville Elementary, Bernard Middle School and the John Cary Early Childhood Center and addressed numerous districtwide facility and technology upgrades.

The three school additions would add more classroom space, something that Mehlville is particularly struggling with in elementary schools, where student populations have not declined as they have at the high school level. Tuition-free, all-day kindergarten, which debuted this year, also takes up more space in schools.

Knost suggests adding two classrooms at Oakville Elementary, four classrooms and a library at Bierbaum and two classrooms and office space at Margaret Buerkle Middle School. The three schools are the most cramped in the district, he told the Call. Plans for the additions were drawn up for free by Dickinson Hussman, the district’s architect.

Oakville Elementary School currently has “art on a cart,” with no permanent art classroom. It opened in fall 2004, replacing the previous Oakville Elementary School, which was razed at the same site in 2002.

“Class sizes have been an issue — we have battled them at Oakville Elementary since the day that building opened,” Knost told the board at the April 24 meeting where he first unveiled his plan.

The $5 million Prop P construction budget for Oakville Elementary went over initial estimates, and district officials at the time lopped off two classrooms from the school as a cost-saving measure.

To alleviate overcrowding, Mehlville redistricted in 2010 to send new students who would have attended Oakville Elementary to Beasley Elementary School instead.

Oakville Elementary parent and volunteer Franchesca Gindler told the board that her family moved into the district seven years ago for the schools, including Oakville Elementary, which was nearly new at that time.

“When (Gindler’s daughter) Samantha started kindergarten seven years ago, I was shocked to realize that it was already overcrowded,” she said. “They had to move music into the cart at that point, and then art was on the cart. Music got its room back, but art never came back to the art room, it’s still in the cart.”

Although teachers have used partitions to divide classrooms into two, the school is still busting at the seams as Gindler’s daughter is now leaving for middle school, she noted.

“The people who go to these schools and who work in these schools, they’ve been flexible, they don’t want to complain,” she added. “But it would be great if we could just have fourth-grade rooms and third-grade rooms and second-grade rooms and art rooms — it’d be awesome.”

Since there is no room around Oakville Elementary to expand, adding additional classrooms other than the two that Knost proposes is not feasible, he told the board.

Board member Jean Pretto asked Knost why his plan calls for a single story instead of a two-level addition that could include more classrooms.

A two-story addition is much more expensive than a single-story addition, Knost said, and the district’s demographic trends do not support adding more classrooms than the two he proposes.

Although art is on a cart at the school, adding classrooms does not guarantee that art would get a room. Oakville Elementary Principal Chad Dickemper would have the flexibility to determine what classes need the new space the most, Knost said.

Board Vice President Venki Palamand asked Knost why the entryway and elevator improvements to the Witzel Learning Center do not include any classroom space.

“We think it’s a good-size building, so this is really shoring up the infrastructure,” Knost said.

“And there’s no need for additional classrooms while you’re in the process of adding space?” Palamand asked.

“I think we’re fine,” Knost replied.

Right now, Witzel houses students from elementary through high school, including the elementary-school gifted program STRETCH — Supplementary Teacher Resource for Educationally Talented Children — and alternative programs for high-school students.

The entryway addition will make the front of the building more pleasing aesthetically, matching the foyer of the new auditorium at Mehlville Senior High School, add an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant elevator that reaches all three floors and create an obvious single entrance that will make securing the building easier, Knost said. The plan also includes HVAC and window replacement and tuckpointing for Witzel. The building’s HVAC replacement is separate from the $8 million figure to replace HVAC systems districtwide that are more than 20 years old.

The auditorium Knost proposes at Oakville High School does not require the purchase of any additional land and is on the opposite side of the school from the auditorium that was proposed for 2010’s failed Proposition C.

Dickinson Hussman placed the auditorium so that the set shop is next to the auditorium instead of behind it like at Mehlville, although it is the same size and design. The set shop next to the auditorium creates a “black box,” empty space that can serve as a 75-seat theater for small shows and classes. Although the auditoriums at both schools will be identical, Mehlville does not have a theater.

The Oakville High addition would not add any new classrooms, but would free up some classroom space since band and choir classes that currently meet in the basement by the locker rooms could meet in the auditorium or theater instead.