Middle school improvements highlight COMPASS II plan

District looking to find parity with Bernard, co-chair says.

By EVAN YOUNG

Significant improvements to three of the Mehlville School District’s four middle schools highlight the recommendations the Facilitating Team for the district’s community-engagement process planned to roll out this week.

Of the roughly $94 million in recommendations gathered during the first and second chapters of COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — capital improvements make up roughly $78.5 million.

And among those capital projects the COMPASS II Facilitating Team planned to present to the community are upgrades and renovations to three middle schools — Buerkle, Oakville and Washington.

The district’s fourth middle school, Bernard, was constructed in 2003 as part of the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program.

The first COMPASS Facilitating Team used the community’s input in 2007 and 2008 to develop a four-phase, long-range plan to make Mehlville a high-performing school district.

In May 2007, the district commissioned Dickinson-Hussman Architects to assist with a long-range facilities master plan update of a 2000 master plan as part of the initial COMPASS process.

Dickinson-Hussman assembled a Facilities Planning Team of educational facilities planner and retired superintendent Dan Keck along with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified interior designer Karen Johnson. They were joined by district parent Jeff Clobes and Director of Support Services Keith Henry.

The team presented the facilities master plan to the school board in August 2008.

Combining data with feedback solicited from employees, residents and students at “charrette” sessions in which participants developed conceptual design improvements for their school, Dickinson-Hussman calculated a total estimated cost for recommended building improvements at $184,499,000.

Those facilities projects would’ve been accomplished in four phases, the first of which would’ve cost $34 million.

The first phase of the master plan would’ve provided appropriate facilities for all-day kindergarten, early childhood satellite facilities modifications, safety and security enhancements, improvements to in-door air quality, acoustic improvements, infrastructure improvements and performing-arts additions at both Mehlville and Oakville senior high schools.

But officials determined last year the funding scenario for the COMPASS plan — including the first phase of the facilities master plan — wouldn’t work because of a decrease in assessed valuation of property in the district. The school board launched COMPASS II nearly a year ago to determine how to proceed with the long-range plan while keeping in mind the availability of district resources.

Two years after the facilities master plan was created, however, the cost to fund the first phase of building improvements has increased from $34 million to roughly $42 million due to inflation, Dwight Dickinson of Dickinson-Hussman told the Facilitating Team last week.

Combined with the cost of non-facilities recommendations in the updated COMPASS plan — such as technological improvements — as well as the cost to finance the projects, the total capital price-tag today equates to roughly $50 million, he said. But the Facilitating Team also has included another roughly $28 million in the updated COMPASS plan for improvements to Buerkle, Oakville and Washington middle schools.

“Going through the plan — and especially at the middle school (COMPASS II) meetings — it kind of became apparent that our middle schools weren’t really getting much from the COMPASS plan and the fact that it’s probably where our greatest need is,” Superintendent Terry Noble said. “We’ve got Bernard (Middle School) which is a very modern facility, but the other three facilities really are lacking environmentally when it comes to getting our students prepared for the 21st century.”

As part of the facilities master plan process two years ago, each school in the district was evaluated in such areas as educational adequacy and educational environment. Dickinson told the Facilitating Team that the middle schools, with the exception of Bernard, were the most deficient facilities in the district:

• Buerkle Middle School, built in 1973, rated “poor” in educational adequacy and educational environment, with an overall score of “borderline.”

• Oakville Middle School, built in 1960, rated “borderline” in educational adequacy and educational environment, with an overall score of “satisfactory.”

• Washington Middle School, built in 1970, rated “borderline” in educational adequacy and educational environment, with an overall score of “satisfactory.”

In addition, both Buerkle and Oakville middle schools’ enrollments exceed their maximum architectural capacities, he said.

Officials estimate it would cost $22 million to completely rebuild Buerkle Middle School, which they contend needs the most work. Or, the school could undergo a “gut rehab” at roughly half the price. In that scenario, renovations and upgrades would be made to the school without demolishing the structure itself.

At Washington Middle School, officials are proposing roughly $4.1 million in improvements, including a new “encore wing” for art, band, choir, family and consumer sciences and industrial arts; cafeteria upgrades; and upgrades to the sixth-grade science wing.

At Oakville Middle School, officials are proposing roughly $2.2 million in improvements, including an “encore wing” and cafeteria upgrades.

The Facilitating Team will ask the public during the final two COMPASS II community-engagement sessions to consider bringing the three middle schools “up to the standards of Bernard,” team co-chair Dan Fowler said.

“What we’re looking to do is find parity with Bernard,” Fowler told the Call. “We’re going to ask them to take a look at that because the three middle schools are — from an educational and environmental point of view — in poor condition. They have failing grades as far as the way they’re functioning right now.”

The proposed middle school improvements not only would benefit students, but also would create “a lot of construction jobs within the community,” Fowler said.

“… This community is a brick-and-mortar community,” he added. “I think that we like to have our buildings in tip-top condition. And I think from a drive-by point of view they are. But just like a home does, they need ongoing care, maintenance and updating. In this case we have three buildings that literally need to be transformed. All three buildings would need major reconstruction and reconfigurations, and mostly at Buerkle Middle School.”