Mehlville facilities panel eyeing finish of Prop P projects

Facility decisions will be made by community, COMPASS co-chair says


While a Mehlville School District facilities committee already is eyeing more construction through a future bond issue, a co-chair of the district’s public-engagement Facilitating Team said any funding recommendation first must receive his panel’s approval.

The Long Range Facilities Master Planning Committee for COMPASS — Charting the Oakville/Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — would like to finish construction projects that were identified during the process leading up to Propositon P.

But Facilitating Team co-chair Dan Fowler said while such committees could recommend that option to the Facilitating Team before it presents its recommendations in May 2008 to the Board of Education, he believes the team will propose a conservative plan for improvement in all areas and not just facilities.

“Regarding facilities, nothing has been decided,” he said. “Quite frankly, it’s not up to the architects to decide what will and will not be done in the Mehlville School District. It’ll be a community decision regarding facilities. And that starts off with the Facilitating Team. And it also starts off with building-level teams that are going to make assessments in each building. So no decisions have been made regarding facilities. Ultimately, it’s approved by the voters of the school district if the school district decides to ask them for funding to do certain projects.”

Dwight Dickinson of Dickinson Hussman Architects said during the first meeting of the facilities planning committee on May 15 that roughly $80 million to $100 million of unfinished work from Prop P still needs to be completed. Some of these improvements include upgrading district libraries, relocating the district’s bus facility currently at Mehlville Senior High School and purchasing land for future facility improvements.

Dickinson and educational-planning consultant Dan Keck also emphasized their desire to improve the district’s facilities to allow for a wider array of curriculum through expanded classrooms, more computer labs and outdoor learning.

“Every one of our buildings, no matter how new, no matter how old they are, we’ve got to take the blinders off,” Dickinson said. “And we’ve got to look at each one of these buildings and ask ourselves what can we do to these buildings? What can we do to make them better so that our students and our staff have proper facilities to teach the curriculum that they need to teach in today’s world?”

But while Dickinson said these projects and an assessment of every building in the district would be beneficial, he realizes that facilities are just one area of improvement among many that the COMPASS Facilitating Team might propose next year.

“Facilities is only one of several topics of discussion that’s going to take place by the big COMPASS committee …,” he said. “All of these topics that are going to be reviewed throughout this year … facilities, curriculum being number one because I think everything should be subservient to the real goal of student achievement. So curriculum is obviously going to take top billing there.

“But we can’t forget facilities. We can’t forget demographics. We can’t forget staffing. We can’t forget all those things that have to interlock together to form that plan that’s going to move this school district forward. Facilities is only one of those. But facilities is going to be a very visible issue that is going to be part of this whole process.”

Voters in November 2000 approved Prop P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase. However, a final budget revision approved by the Board of Education in December 2005 raised the Prop P budget to $89,137,440 — a roughly 30.3-percent increase — more than $20.7 million over the nearly $68.4 million building improvement program envisioned in 2000.

“There were a lot of issues that we simply did not understand up front before we went for that tax measure,” Dickinson said. “In this process, it’s going to be different be-cause (the facilities-planning committee) is going to help us work through a lot of those problems up front so we have a much better handle on whatever these facility costs are going to be, wherever the district’s going to go with this facilities plan. Whatever it is, we’re going to tell the board and we can tell the board these are real numbers and these are real plans for these projects. And I think that’s a far cry from what happened with Prop P. Again, I’m not criticizing Prop P because I think what it did at that time was far and above anything that had ever happened in this district before. But here’s an opportunity today, seven years later, to do something even more impactful.”

Fowler said that while the ultimate goal of COMPASS is improving the district, he and the Facilitating Team would not recommend any plan that he believes would be rejected by voters like the proposed 97-cent tax-rate increase Proposition A that was rejected in February 2006. He reiterated that if the Facilitating Team proposes a tax measure, it will have to be more conservative than Prop A, which he described as “unreasonable.”

“Any program that costs money is going to be a tough sell to the COMPASS Facilitating Team because we want to be successful,” Fowler said. “And it would be very easy for us to put together a plan that encompasses everything that we think that we need. That would be easy. The problem with that is it also would not be successful. I’m not on this Facilitating Team to have an end result of failure. I think that all of us that are on this team are on it for success. I think we can take the Mehlville School District to the next level. This is not something that’s going to be done overnight. This is a process that’s going to take many, many years to accomplish. If we want to take the Mehlville School District to being one of the best in St. Louis County, it’s not something that’s going to happen in one or two or three or five years. This is going to happen over a 10- to 20-year period in time. It’s going to have to be done slowly and deliberately, but conservatively in this community. If we throw everything at this community at one time, you know, the Christmas list, we will fail …”

Dickinson said, “We need to review our buildings from the standpoint of evaluating what we did under Prop P. We need to look at, prioritize and correct a lot of deficiencies that weren’t addressed in Prop P. We need to assess the facility needs resulting from these new methods of curriculum teaching that are coming to the fore on a rapidly increasing basis. There’s a growing realization that these facilities that we are dealing with now that are 40 years or 50 years old are in urgent need of adaptation.”