Nearly 30 people spoke up during Monday night’s public hearing on the School Board’s Fiscal Year 2024-2029 Capital Improvement program and Capital Asset Preservation Program.
Speakers supported plans rebuild Park View High School and renovate Waterford Elementary School. Speakers also supported upgrades to Banneker Elementary School, although some called for renovations and other advocated building a replacement school.
No one spoke against the nearly $1.3 billion dollar six-year construction budget.
Lisa McLaughlin, a parent of three Waterford Elementary students, asked the board to support the renovation plans because the school is already over capacity and kids are being put in modular units or “cottages” to make space for them. She raised safety concerns about students walking back and forth between the school and the trailers. She also said the trailers don’t have bathrooms or running water, so if a student needs to use the bathroom or fill their water bottle, they miss instruction time to walk into the main school. Other students miss it, too, because they must go in pairs and use a teacher’s badge to get into the school.
Whitney Otto, a parent of two Waterford Elementary students, reminded the board that it was a year ago Waterford parents asked the board to support an addition to the school and reiterated they are currently at 93% of the building’s capacity and will be over capacity in the next few years. She talked about three classrooms that are outside of the main school and how students have to wait outside by themselves before they can get buzzed through the new security vestibule. She said the students are not getting equitable services like their counterparts in other schools because of the space issues. She said the proposed addition would allow for lunch to be served in a separate space and give teachers their own space and storage areas, and allow for designated art and music spaces.
Others talked about a shortage of bathroom stalls for the number of students, not having an American with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design-complaint bathroom stall, and the loss of art and music classrooms because of overcrowding. Several parents invited Board members to come to the school and see for themselves.
“How is it equitable to ask our students to achieve the same learning tasks, these 21st century learning tasks that we want them to be engaged in, when we have such a lack of space to engage them?” asked Tricia Crouch, a fifth-grade Waterford teacher assigned to a cottage classroom.
Amy Cornell, a parent and teacher at Banneker Elementary, spoke in support of building a new school and said, based on an August information meeting, building a new school would cost the same as renovating the old one. She expressed concern over the renovation taking place while students were in school and the worry of opening the walls of a 75-year-old building and how it would affect the students.
“Advocating for a new building does not mean advocating for demolishing the old. The present building may have outlived its life as a school, but that does not mean it can’t be repurposed,” she said.
Another Banneker teacher, Bryan Cornell, spoke of his experience with rodents in the classroom and opposed a renovation, noting documented asbestos and mold throughout the building and how it will be disturbed while children are in classes during years of construction. He said renovation would only buy another 15 years for the building but said a new one would get another 75 years.
Jennifer Imhoff spoke in favor of renovating Banneker and pointed to several older buildings, including the White House and the U.S. Capitol, that have been renovated because of their historical significance.
“History is important, and I am a white person up here talking about a historically Black village which I live in, and it’s important to me and my fellow neighbors. We need to listen to the people of St. Louis village. It is historical to them, and it means something to them,” she said.
Donald Reid, a Banneker student from 1955 to 1962, spoke against tearing the school down, saying it has survived other renovations and its history needs to be preserved. He said it was built a long time ago for a reason and that reason was “to teach the people, the children.”
Others brought up the age of the school and the tight quarters because of multipurpose spaces, saying students eat in the classrooms for breakfast because the cafeteria is used for instruction. Other pointed to the poor condition of the two on-site modular classrooms.
Several teachers spoke up in favor of plans to build a new Park View High School, saying rebuilding the school was the only option.
Park View teacher Liz Thomas said the community was thrilled at the superintendent’s recommendation to rebuild the school.
“While the cost is obviously great, I believe the cost of not replacing Park View would be even greater in the long term. It’s not only in terms of monetary cost of ever ongoing small-scale renovations and replacements, but it will also be costly for the well-being of the community,” she said. She said at a previous Title One school where she worked, a new building brought positive changes for students and staff.
Park View teacher and Sterling resident Sophie Fowler said the community has been advocating for a new facility for a year, “not just because we want a new facility, but because we need a new facility, and this need is very real and very necessary. It comes down to the safety of the students and staff as well as creating an equitable learning environment.”
Chief Operations Officer Kevin Lewis said after looking at some of the issues Park View faces—including its smaller classrooms, smaller library and cafeteria space, thin walls that disrupted learning, and the lack of a central HVAC plan in the building—and after looking at three renovation plans, his staff determined the cost was only slightly different to rebuild the school rather than renovate it.
Lewis said staff members have proposed delaying several other projects in an effort to lessen the overall costs of the six-year CIP.
Renovations at Waterford are scheduled to begin in 2025, with $20 million budgeted for the work to build an estimated 14,000- to 20,000-square-foot addition that would include a multipurpose room, four classrooms and other ancillary spaces. Renovations would be made to the cafeteria, kitchen and office spaces. And the modular classrooms would be removed. The renovation is set to be complete 2027-2028.
Work at Banneker is scheduled to begin in 2024 with a $38.9 million budget. The project envisions a 61,000-square-foot addition that would include a multipurpose room, five classrooms and other ancillary spaces and additional bathrooms. Renovations would be made to the cafeteria, kitchen, and office spaces. And the modular classrooms would be removed.
The Park View rebuild project is estimated at $221.7 million. Under the plan, work won’t start on the 295,000-square-foot building it until 2023 or 2024. The new school would be built on the current stadium and athletic fields while students continue to attend the current school. The new school would open in the fall of 2027-28. The former school then would be torn down to make way for new athletic fields opening in 2028-29.
The next public hearing and work session for the CIP is Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m. The School Board is expected to adopt the FY2024-FY2029 Capital Budgets on Dec. 13.
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