Community support at first referendum meeting

Chelsea Peck
This sketch shows what the new kindergarten-through-fifth grade elementary school could look like if the community passes the referendum, which will be found on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The Dunlap board of education held its first of seven meetings Monday to discuss the need for a new elementary school.

The referendum will be voted on Nov. 2.

Superintendent Dr. Jay Marino talked with a small group of Dunlap residents about why a new school is the best decision for the district.

“Current capacity and current enrollment, we’ve hit that mark today. When we look forward, this is kind of an opportunity to say, ‘What do we think and what do we see coming in the doors,’” Marino said.

Marino explained how the group of stakeholders, including teachers, parents and community members, looked at birth rates, enrollment rates and did calculations to come to a projected number for future enrollment in the district.

Ten years ago, when Ridgeview Elementary School opened, the district had 964 elementary students housed in all four grade schools.

Now, according to Marino, the district is looking at 1,625 elementary level students.

Community member Bob Cassidy said, “I’m most familiar with Dunlap Grade and Banner. I’m in there a couple times a week and it’s mind-boggling how many kids are in there. They’re almost coming out the doorways they’re so packed in there.”

The proposed school, which will be built to house 450, but can eventually hold 600 with expansion, will be ready for the 2012 school year.

The building will be two-stories, with classroom grades in clusters.

“Grades will be lumped together. It will give the opportunity to have students collaborating not just with the classroom they are in, but with all other classes in their grade,” Marino said.

There will be spaces for music, special education, speech, occupational and physical therapy.

“Every grade level has a resource area that’s shared where we can put banks of computers or tables for group learning. It’s a space outside of a typical classroom where students can be learning together,” Marino explained.

Marino also discussed redistricting criteria for the new school. The three criteria included: keeping students at neighborhood schools, keeping siblings together and making schools more balanced with room for growth.

Marino broke down the cost of the project for the group. Building costs will be the highest at $13,798,266, followed by site work at $3,307,328.

Architecture and engineering will cost $1,578,526, followed by equipment and furnishings, contingency and site purchase at $970,090, $840,043 and $651,602, respectively.

The total coming out to $21,145,855.

The referendum is asking for $11.5 million, with the remaining amounts coming from two existing funds. The board will take $5 million from the site and construction fund and $4.6 million from the education fund, which they have been saving for a project of this size.

“We have been waiting to use reserve funds and put it into a project that would help create a more optimal learning environment,” Marino said.

Although Marino went over other options if the referendum does not pass, such as portable classrooms, expanding existing schools and having class sizes exceed acceptable levels, those in attendance agreed there is a need for a new elementary school.

Andy Crosman, Dunlap community member, said, “There’s a lot of growth. I’m in full support of the referendum.”

His wife, Sarah Crosman, also agreed.

“The new school includes a library, cafeteria and gym. It includes core infrastructure, which is why I support it,” she said. “The high school addition, they already have those eight classrooms filled. I don’t think that was the best choice for them.”

Marino closed by saying why this is the best time to start construction.

“We’ve seen growth as far back as we can look and it continues. Even in the economic times today, we saw one of our highest enrollments. Our schools are at capacity today, so the pain is real and what we’re dealing with, growth issues are in front of us today,” he said. “This is a construction favorable environment. Construction costs are low and materials are lower. This is probably the best time to build.”

Marino then opened the floor for questions, and with the help of fellow board members, answered any the group had.

The next meetings are at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 14 at Dunlap Grade School, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at Banner, 7 p.m. Oct. 21 at Dunlap Middle school, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at Dunlap Valley Middle School and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at Ridgeview Elementary School.