Editorial: Expect a good school plan
Op-Ed · August 23, 2013

West Branch Community Schools’ process for developing a facilities plan is thorough and efficient and it is offering opportunities for the community to get involved.

The school district started by asking the community — students, parents, teachers, business leaders and even non-parents — to give their opinions on what the district does well and where it could improve or make changes. The survey data was collected, wisely, before an engineering report on the buildings’ conditions, and focuses primarily on perceptions. Those perceptions range from people intimately involved in the district to those with only an outside view. All are valuable when trying to establish a meaningful guide to the future.

Next came the engineering report, which gives an expert opinion on the condition of actual bricks and mortar, current and projected enrollment, the quality of heating and cooling systems, building requirements and architectural recommendations.

Community involvement is not some patronizing gesture on the school’s part. Central Office has inundated parents and other stakeholders with invitations to join its Facilities Advisory Committee, and appointed parent Chris Bower its chairman.

Bower has established himself as a significant voice for parents by influencing the current and impressive condition of the new gymnasium and weight room. A parent and businessman, Bower has often been asked by the school board and administration to share insight and knowledge, and we see no reason for that to end any time soon. School leaders will likely give great weight to recommendations brought forth by the facilities committee.

One way to look at the survey results is that it lays out the community’s “wants” for the schools, whereas the engineering report represents the “needs.” This is a bit of an oversimplification, but by and large the facilities committee must find the balance between the two, deciding what order to attack each project.

The school board, in the last step, must figure out what it can afford, which then determines how fast that work can get done.

The school district wants to finish the plan by December, so the facilities committee has a lot of work to do between now and then. Superintendent Kevin Hatfield opened up the facilities committee to anyone who shows up. How much easier could it be to get involved?

More committee meetings will be announced, but anyone still wishing to attend may contact Central Office to put their name on the e-mail list.

We are encouraged by the process the school district has employed to develop the facilities plan, and by the mix of opinions and data available to help the committee and school district produce a quality plan.

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