School board OKs $15K for master plan
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · March 22, 2013

The heating system at West Branch High School continues to top the list of problems there, a facilities planning committee representative told the school board last week.

And Hoover Elementary could badly use a bus lane.

Parking. Yes, parking is also a problem.

Oh, and the restrooms at the K-5 school need lots of work, too.

“There are so many things that a handful of (committee members) can’t get their hands around,” Chris Bower told the board. “We need an architect and a master plan.”

With Bower’s report and the recommendation of Superintendent Kevin Hatfield, the West Branch Board of Education voted to spend $15,000 to hire Struxture Architects to create a plan that helps make improvements with the entire district in mind, not just spots around the campuses.

Hatfield said the school has many projects it could afford to do, but the district wants to plan for the next 15 years, not create a “patch quilt” campus.

Board member Richard Paulus, who has lived in West Branch for 22 years, said Iowa City is growing closer and the Interstate 380 corridor continues to build up as well.

“We really are on the verge of considerable growth,” he said. “What do we do if 300 kids show up in a couple of years?”

Bower, who is leading the local committee to work with the school board, said the plan must consider what is best for education, safety issues, and infrastructure.

“We left everything on the table,” he said, like moving seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms to the high school and replacing the elementary school.

Board President Mike Owen stressed that this is “just the planning process” — it does not build or remodel or repair.

Board member Kathy Knoop said board members are often approached with ideas to improve the district.

“It will be reassuring to have a plan,” she said, one that can help future school boards as well. “It will be worth every penny to have it.”

Owen said he wants the mix of the committee members who live in West Branch, the school board, and an architect who is coming in with a fresh perspective.

The school board president mentioned the idea to “move the bus barn” to make way for an expanded city library and/or recreation center.

“We need to make changes with a broader vision,” Owen said.

Hatfield agreed.

“I don’t want to prioritize (spending) on my own,” he said.

Bower said he would encourage anyone who wants to make particular improvements to tour the entire school district.

“They would see the needs,” he said. “It’s going to take some years (to do it all).”

Paulus said he would like to see the plan done in six months, and certainly less than a year.

“It would be a disadvantage to mull it over for too many months,” he said.

Hatfield said community input is important, and Owen said the same, but added that the board must be ready to lead.

“Ultimately, somebody is going to have to be the referee for all of this,” he said. “And that is us.”

Hatfield said the school district has almost $1 million in Physical Plant and Equipment Levy that can be used on improvements, and the $15,000 for Struxture will come out of that.

The school board selected Struxture because of its experience with schools, its quick-start timeline and the detail it provided in its proposal.

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