Plan tears down WBMS, builds
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · January 24, 2014

Build additions to the elementary and high school, finish the competition gym, tear down the middle school for a new parking lot and parent drop-off, move the softball field and overhaul the high school’s parking lot, and move the bus barn to the high school. And do it all in the next 15 years.
Crafters of a 15-year Master Facilities Plan, the product of 18 months of stakeholders gathering facts, touring schools and talking to architects, unveiled their plan last week to the West Branch Board of Education.

Superintendent Kevin Hatfield emphasized that this plan is only a draft — many of the handouts are stamped “DRAFT,” some on every page — and that many of the dollar figures will likely change over the course of the plan.

And while the school board listened to and asked questions of Facilities Committee Chairman Chris Bower, Committee Representative Jody Yeggy and Struxture Architects’ John Darveau, the board took no formal action to accept the plan.

Still, board members seemed receptive to the overall plan, talking about how it would make better use of time, increase safety, provide more room for hands-on learning, impact the city library’s hopes to expand, and handle projected growth. They also discussed how the school district should communicate the plan to the community as a whole.

Of course, there is a cost. The plan calls for the school district to start some of the smaller projects with revenues from two current tax streams: the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy and State Secure an Advanced Vision Education.

And, the plan calls on the school district to put forth a $22 million bond referendum that would start after the district pays off the $3.35 million bond referendum that installed geothermal HVAC at Hoover Elementary and made other improvements. The school district is on track to pay off that 10-year, $3.35 million bond in July 2018, about 4 1/2 years from now.

Hatfield said the school would need a tax rate of about $2.70 for every $1,000 assessed valuation, though he is not sure if that rate is based on paying off the $22 million over 20 or 30 years. That rate is $1.48 more than the $1.22 property owners pay under the $3.35 million bond. He said school leaders think West Branch could grow by 45 to 50 pupils in the next five years.

He emphasizes that the plan’s goal is not to save money, but to make the school district operations run more efficiently and effectively.

Hoover Elementary

The Master Facilities Plan calls for a “two-campus” district with two school buildings — a pre-kindergarten-through-fifth-grade Hoover Elementary and a junior-and-senior-high school campus at the current high school.

West Branch Middle School currently houses grades five through eight. The district moved the fifth-graders there two years ago to alleviate crowding at Hoover Elementary. Also, some 125 seventh- and eighth-graders start their day at the high school now, taking music, health, life skills and more.

Under the plan, additions at Hoover and WBHS would mean fifth graders could return to Hoover and the sixth-through-eighth grade pupils would join the high school students.

Hoover’s addition is more complex than attaching a new wing. It involves building a two-story addition in the center of the building, above the current breezeway, primarily for classroom space.

Also, it would expand the multi-purpose room to build new office space and create a new main entrance to the school.

Replacing the middle school with a parking lot, the plan also calls for a driveway that loops around the parking lot and allows parents to drop off pupils near this new entrance instead of the current one on Oliphant.

The plan also would include renovating other interior rooms, including the gymnasium for a concession stand.

In later phases, the K-2 classes in the lower level would move out, making room for music, art and more pre-K.

Junior-Senior High

The facilities plan calls for an addition attached to the front of the current high school, stretching from the new gymnasium to the main entrance.

The west wing, from the library to the surrounding classrooms, would be renovated to become the new middle school.

A new library would be part of the addition, as well as a new auditorium.

Jutting out from the center of the new high school would be a two-story section of classrooms, including science and engineering labs, as well as new school offices and a new high school commons.

The weight room, currently part of the new gymnasium addition, would be moved to the current industrial tech classroom. That would allow the new gymnasium, by knocking out a wall, to add bleachers and wood flooring to make it a “competition gym” capable of hosting regional and state volleyball and basketball games.

Moving buildings, parking

In the plan, the bus barn and maintenance shed would both be removed from the north side of the Oliphant Street football field and relocated into a single building just west of the high school, along Johnson-Cedar Road.

The parking lots at the high school would get extensive overhauling.

The lot east of the new gym would be nearly doubled in width and be designated for students. The plan then calls for removing the softball field and building a second student/visitor parking lot over it, with a driveway encircling the lot, though the lot itself would not be so far from the new addition to the high school building. A staff/visitor parking lot would be built to the west of the new student lot. A driveway encircling that lot would serve as the bus drop-off lane.

Sports facilities

The Oliphant Street football field would get more bleachers for both Bears fans and visitors, plus, on the north side of the field, a concession stand and public restrooms in Phase 1, then locker rooms in Phase 2.

By removing the maintenance shed, the school would have enough space for nose-in parking — both facing the field and away from it.

At the high school, plans for overhauling the parking lots would mean relocating the softball field to just south of the baseball field. To keep baseball players’ home runs from landing in the softball field, the baseball field would be turned 90 degrees clockwise, so the batter faces southeast.

With both ball fields almost back-to-back, the plan suggests building a single concession stand behind the adjacent backstop bleachers.

At the track/practice football field, the bleachers would be relocated from the west side to the east side of the field. That would include adding a stretch of track to the east side to move the starting lines and sprint races to the east side as well.

In the southwest corner of the high school property, where many little league baseball and softball teams play, as well as Legion baseball, the fields would get switched around a bit.

The first ballfield along Johnson-Cedar Road would be replaced by a parking lot, and two new ball fields would be built south of the Legion field.

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