WHY A FACILITY STUDY AND WHY NOW?
Foremost, we are out of space. There are approximately 715 students in our building each day. The number of spaces and classrooms needed to support the academic programs of today have pushed us to maximum capacity. Additionally, many spaces in our facilities need repair and/or do not match the way students are learning.
The cost of this project will only increase with time, while the existing facilities will continue to deteriorate. Because the Alburnett School Board has been aggressively paying down the principal on the 2007 General Obligation bond, we have saved $395,978 in interest and will pay it off seven years early. This allows us to consider a new General Obligation bond that could begin in 2021.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
After months of conversations around the future of education in Alburnett, the school board hired OPN Architects in December 2018 to conduct assessments of the current facilities and propose options for the district’s existing facility needs. Concurrently, in January, a group of 25 community members formed a facilities committee. Using the result of OPN’s assessments and analysis of both current and future needs, the committee reviewed all scenarios proposed by the design team and arrived at a long-term solution that addressed the most immediate needs of the district’s aging facilities, while also looking to the future needs.
The Alburnett School Board voted on March 28 to accept the Facilities Committee’s proposed plan. The board’s next step will be to call for an election so residents of the school district can cast their vote. The decision to call an election, though, must come from registered voters in Alburnett. To that end, community members are circulating a petition asking the school board to call the election. If you’ve seen the petition, you know that it isn’t a request to vote one way or the other. The time for that will come. The purpose of the petition is for the community to communicate to the Alburnett School Board that they want the board to call for an election. Once an election has been called, the district will hold more open houses and share more information here and through other channels about the proposed plan.
WHAT WOULD THE PROJECT INCLUDE?
The proposed plan would impact learning spaces for all ages at Alburnett. It would improve upon the existing facilities at the elementary and secondary schools through renovations as well as additions. The agricultural and industrial technology spaces would be relocated to an addition to the northwest adjacent to the greenhouse. A new auditorium at the southeast corner would replace the insufficient space in the existing small gym and allows the consolidation of music spaces co-located with the auditorium. As a result of the renovations and additions, we would be adding 10 additional classrooms. We also would improve the safety, security, function, and overall aesthetic of our school facilities. Most importantly, though, we would be adding and improving spaces to support education and create opportunities for our students.
HOW WOULD THIS IMPACT EDUCATION IN ALBURNETT?
While we have much to be proud of with past facility updates, many spaces in our school aren’t conducive to today’s learning and teaching. Rows of desks, overhead projectors, chalk boards and books no longer describe today’s learning environments. In the digital era, the educational landscape is rapidly transforming. This and future generations will associate schools more with community, technology, creativity, and collaboration. While we cannot predict future changes to curriculum and technology that will inevitably happen, with these renovation and additions we would have facilities that are designed to avoid early obsolescence with flexible, open spaces that are clearly organized, accessible, and easily adaptable. We would also be providing our students with learning environments on par with their peers in other area districts, arming them with opportunities that will prepare them for their next chapter.
How would these additions affect access and parking?
Parking would be addressed as part of this plan. The project budget would include funding for an additional 100 parking spots. The district is exploring opportunities for the location of the additional spots. Preliminary test fits confirm that the proposed additions will fit on the site. The design team includes civil engineers, who will work with the district to identify improved access and traffic patterns as the design of the additions take shape following a successful bond vote.
What would the renovations and additions look like?
As part of the project, most of the school would see general improvements to the walls, floors, lighting, and furnishings. This includes nearly all bathrooms. Renovated spaces would include a PK-12 media center on the first floor centrally located near the small gym. The existing media centers would become classrooms, as would the existing secondary music room. The stage of the small gym would be reclaimed and transformed into classrooms as well. The family and consumer science room would be upgraded. Renovated classrooms throughout the school would range in size from 800 to 1,000 square feet depending on the function. By comparison, many current classrooms are around 600 square feet.
The new 7,800-square-foot agriculture and industrial tech wing would have a secure entrance and larger classrooms for hands-on collaborative learning conducive to vocational tech programs. The proposed design would emulate the existing exterior of that portion of the school and would be flexible for future expansion to the west.
At the front of the school, in the space now occupied by the ag/tech wing, another addition would create an auditorium and music room. This nearly 13,000-square-foot addition would create an opportunity to improve the school’s main entrance as well. The auditorium would accommodate 500 seats. A lobby off the entrance would accommodate pre-function gatherings and would allow for the majority of the school to be closed off during events.
Yes, but what will it actually look like?
The honest answer is we don’t know yet. And, that’s a good thing. Typical pre-referendum design includes programming – the process by which architects determine space requirements – and floor plans representing the results of the program analysis. The real design work would start after we determine if we are moving to a public vote, and a bond would be passed. This would allow us to go from concept to schematic design, to construction documents (also known as architectural drawings) and ultimately construction. Schools reflect a community’s personality, pride, and philosophies. Before the design of Alburnett’s new spaces, OPN Architects would spend time getting to know the community’s collective vision for how the building will be used and what each space should provide. OPN Architects would help Alburnett analyze, assess, and synthesize data, methodologies, and facilities to create a blend of physical, digital, and immersive environments that enable your staff to teach and mentor the next generation of innovators, creators, collaborators, and leaders.
Why do we need an auditorium?
The Alburnett school is the heart of our communities. As such, it is a natural gathering place for a myriad events. An auditorium would serve more than the school. Like the rest of the facilities, it would be open to the community. The school district would use the space for more than music and dramatic performances. Auditoriums are more than performance venues. They are large classrooms for fine arts and technology programs. It would also fill an unmet need in the district for a space to host other events for large audiences – speakers, presentations, professional development days, etc … — without monopolizing gym space. The new auditorium would also be safer and more comfortable than our existing performance space in the small gym.
What about the gym?
A critical part of this facilities assessment process has been the investigation of multiple scenarios and solutions. The proposed plan is one that the facilities committee recommended to the school board because it believed it was the best solution for our district and community. It preserves the small gym for community use because the committee understood and acknowledged that the gym serves an important role for recreational sports in our community.
What will happen to the existing softball fields?
The district is exploring opportunities to relocate the fields to accommodate new traffic patterns on the site.
How will this project improve safety and security?
Alburnett already has a secure main entrance with the office located at the front of the school requiring all visitors to check in before entering. These doors are locked during the day, so visitors must also be buzzed in. As a result of this project, we would be able to enhance these security measures with doors that can lock at the flip of a single switch as well as security cameras. We would also be upgrading the fire alarm and communication systems.
How do school facilities affect economic development?
Schools are integrally tied to a community’s economic vitality. According to a recent study by real estate search engine Trulia and Harris Interactive, the majority (57 percent) of parents with children under 18 would pay above listing price to live in the neighborhood with ideal schools. As Alburnett looks to the future, school facilities that match the caliber of education we provide our students, will play a critical role in the growth of our communities.