Options for Mehlville School District facilities to be weighed by committee

Panel to be presented variety of funding options, superintendent says

By BURKE WASSON

The Facilitating Team for the Mehlville School District’s public-engagement process will begin to study options regarding the district’s facilities in April.

Dwight Dickinson of Dickinson Hussman Architects informed the team last week that the district’s Long Range Facilities Master Plan Committee will schedule three “brainstorming” charrette sessions this month to prioritize facility options. While Dickinson identified Feb. 19 for elementary schools and Feb. 26 for middle schools, he did not have a date set yet for discussion of the district’s high-school facilities. The location of the sessions also is yet to be determined.

Participants at these meetings will use a variety of data to prioritize the district’s facilities needs like staff facility evaluations, maintenance needs, principals’ surveys, instructional framework design and consensus points from the community-engagement session through COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

Once the three sessions are completed, Dickinson said he will present those recommendations April 7 to the Facilitating Team for approval and again April 14 as part of a community-engagement session.

“Out of these three different meetings, we’re going to come up with concepts,” Dickinson said. “… And from February to April 7, we’re going to put cost options to those different options that come out of these charrettes. And that’s what’s going to be brought back to (the Facilitating Team) on the 7th of April where you’ll get a chance to see what those options are. And whatever you feel should be presented to the big CES committee the next week, then we’re going to ask you for your permission to do whatever needs to be done so then the big community on April 14 gets an idea of what these different options are and what they’re going to cost. And then we’re going to ask them to give us feedback.

“That’s how we’re going to formulate this big facility master plan. And then once we get the information from the community on the 14th, our team will work from the 14th of April until about the middle of July where we’re going to put hard numbers to all of these options that we are being told by the community that they want these facilities to have addressed.”

The Facilitating Team — a collection of district residents, employees, school-board members and students — is charged with ultimately whittling down the community’s ideas from COMPASS sessions into a recommendation to be delivered in July to the Board of Education. Dickinson emphasized that each of the cost options for the facilities team’s ideas would be “real numbers” so that the school board can more capably judge those recommendations.

“I promised the board when we were first hired last April that I would bring them real numbers before they made a decision on what they were going to do with this facility master plan,” Dickinson said. “And that is my intent. So by getting these rough numbers presented to the community in April, then we’re going to have the opportunity to spend the next few months to really fine-tune those numbers so that when the community does get presented with any kind of a facility master plan, those are going to be real numbers that we can rely on. That was a promise I made.”

Additionally, Superintendent Terry Noble said the administration is studying various financial options of funding a variety of consensus points from the district’s COMPASS sessions, which began last April.

“We’re taking the summaries from all of the meetings that we’ve gathered so far with topics like technology, safety, security, staffing, all that relates to academic performance,” Noble told the Facilitating Team. “And we are trying to just develop a list of what that would look like in terms of programs and services. And we’re wanting to come up with some hard numbers, too …

“We’re working with financial consultants to see what’s available and different methods of funding whatever proposal might come out of this committee. But none of this is etched in stone. This is simply information for you to view so that you can tell us as you look at it what you would like to recommend. I’m sure your recommendation is going to be based partly on cost.

“So we’re trying to link those items with what the cost would be so you would have a basis for helping you to make a decision … That includes the status quo and what it would look like if we did nothing. We’ll have that and then we’ll have what some might term as a Cadillac plan or something that would really be the top of the line that we would pull in from everything that we’ve heard from the COMPASS meetings so far and then some things in between. So that gives you choices.”

To more closely tie in instructional programs with facilities, the Facilitating Team acted upon an administrative recommendation to cancel the March 10 COMPASS session originally reserved for instructional programs and combine that presentation with facilities at the April 14 session set from 7 to 9 p.m. at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road.

Facilitating Team member Paul Goldak was skeptical of the move given that the team already had agreed to extend COMPASS into the summer after originally being scheduled to end in May.

“I think Dickinson Hussman is putting their professional reputation on the line to hit those dates with a quality product,” he said. “Because if they don’t, our process will have been hijacked by their process and our reputation — with the school district and with everyone that’s been attending with the hundreds and maybe thousands of people that have been attending these meetings — our reputation is going to suffer in their eyes because we have allowed this process to be subverted by other influences that we all agreed that eventually would happen. But it bothers me that we’re making another change. And I really don’t want to see another change.”

Facilitating Team co-chair Dan Fowler told Goldak that because facilities and instructional programs have been a part of COMPASS “from the very beginning” and because “we’re trying to get instruction to drive facilities,” delaying the instructional-programs presentation until April would only help the teams to fine-tune that relationship.

“I do believe that the facilities and the instructional process has been a part of COMPASS from the very beginning,” he said. “Now there may have been some confusion from the fact that they were working independently of COMPASS at the beginning … But I know that facilities was a big part of this. I don’t know any other way of doing it.

“And I think from what I understand, we’re trying to get instruction to drive the facilities plan. So we do have two independent groups working outside and we are relying on those numbers. And you’re absolutely right. I think that in order for this team of members that are working here tonight to have integrity down the road, we’ve got to make sure that the numbers are right.”