Twenty kindergartners are bused away from their neighborhood school because there isn’t space for them at Union Elementary in Belleville.
Two classes of sixth-graders — some 60 students — are receiving instruction at West Junior High School instead of next door at Abraham Lincoln Elementary, their official school.
And at Roosevelt Elementary, a teacher takes art-on-a-cart to the 342 students because there isn’t space for a dedicated art or music room.
Belleville District 118 has grown steadily by about 250 students in the last five years, according to the state board of education, but the buildings have not. The district also casts a wary eye to areas along South 11th Street and Frank Scott Parkway, which are platted for family-friendly subdivisions. Last year, the district hired a firm to look at options, including redistricting and construction of a new building.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
On Tuesday, the school board approved a measure that will allow the school district to borrow up to a total of $20 million toward the construction and renovations. The vote “does not lock us into anything,” said assistant superintendent Ryan Boike, but agreeing to the measure allows the district to keep exploring possibilities.
The most expensive scenarios — laughed off at a presentation at last month’s board meeting as being too costly — would be a new building to house junior high or elementary school students. But a new building would be over the district’s financial comfort level by more than $20 million.
A new building would also not solve all the district’s space problems, Ittner Architect’s representatives told the district. Several buildings are at capacity, special education needs are expected to grow, and parking, drop off and pick up areas are inadequate and also have safety concerns.
“Redistricting will not solve your space deficiencies long-term,” Dennis Young, of Ittner, told the board.
The formal presentation from Ittner Architects recommended additions to Union, Abraham Lincoln and Roosevelt that would include some 21 new classrooms as well as cafeterias and administrative spaces. Ittner also recommended districtwide repairs, some of which are pressing.
I don’t think there’s anything on that list of district repairs we haven’t been aware of. We’ve just had to prioritize.
Matt Klosterman, superintendent of Belleville District 118
District 118 has been such a great manager of its money, Linda Matkowski says, that its one of only three school districts she has kept on as clients out of hundreds, as she has moved up in her career to be executive vice president of City Securities, which has it’s headquarters in Indianapolis.
“118 is such an incredibly special district because they don’t do a lot of the bad things other districts do. They only tax for the things they have to tax for…back in 2010 (they were) able to reduce property tax bills. If they can give it back, they’ll give it back,” she said.
Matkowski recommended to the district at last month’s board meeting that any new debt not exceed $20 million. Ittner provided a plan that would keep construction and repairs to that figure, but it would delay several other projects. The board could also decide to pick and choose any number of repairs and construction projects, or it could also elect to do nothing at all.
“I don’t think there’s anything on that list of district repairs we haven’t been aware of,” Superintendent Matt Klosterman said. “We’ve just had to prioritize.”
Roofing and boilers are prominent on the list of concerns.
“The worst case for us is the boiler (stops working) in January when there are kids in the building,” Klosterman said. “This is an opportunity for us to replace the boilers that are really old. If we had the money, we probably would have done it before now anyway.”
Boike said, “We’re very proud of our schools … but there are just some things that need to get done.”
Construction, renovation and repair costs could be about $26.2 million. Reducing district repairs to just under $2 million would keep the total bill to $20 million, a debt load that the district’s financial adviser is comfortable with.
The district has the authority to issue $6 million in bonds now after a vote earlier in 2016, but has not yet issued those bonds. Matkowski has said issuing another $14 million in bonds would be fiscally responsible. The vote this week was to add $14 million for a total possibility of $20 million.
“It’s level debt,” she said, much like a mortgage payment and within the district’s ability to repay. She said that on a $100,000 property tax bill, the bond payment would be about $70 a year for homeowners.
The next step, Klosterman said, is to determine who would sell the bonds. The financial advisers have narrowed a field of seven applicants to two or three, he said.
The district will be looking at the rates, fees and structure of the proposals, Klosterman said.
“We’re looking to do the project in the least expensive way possible, not only construction, but also the financial parts of it,” he said.
Although the board did pass the measure to consider the debt, and Ittner Architects and the financial advisers have made recommendations, the district has plenty of wiggle room.
“It still doesn’t commit the board to pursue selling the bonds with an underwriter,” he said.
Schools need more space
At Union, the current gym space and stage area — some 3,600 square feet — houses physical education, music classes and the school’s library, with the library office wedged into a former storage closet and a social worker’s office tucked in behind the stage as well.
“What’s really fun is when free throws are going on and this is going on,” said music teacher Amy Hettenhausen, waving to her small class of students playing the flute and saxophone.
Ittner’s plans for Union include adding a new wing to the back of the building, which would hold a large gym and administrative offices. The current gym, music room/library and offices would be renovated into five classrooms. It would allow three sections of every grade, as well as an art/music room and a specialized reading room.
Of all the additions for academics, offices and assemblies, it is the parking area that has Principal Lori Taylor the most excited.
“My parents get so agitated at the size of this lot, they would be thrilled (for additional parking),” Taylor said.
Parent Jamie Hopper has daughters in first and second grades at Union and is among those parents who would appreciate a larger parking area.
“If we don’t have the cooperation of all parents at drop off and pickup, it does not go smoothly at all,” she said, citing a parent who recently parked in front of the school long enough to disrupt other parents from moving on.
Hopper says the other mother yelled out the window for other cars to go around her, but they were then confronted with oncoming traffic.
Staff has had to be out many mornings to assist parents who drop off children at the wrong spot, Hopper said, “acting as sort of police.”
Hopper says “we love it” at Union and is very supportive of the teachers and staff, but the cramped spaces inside mean that the school’s fall festival is stretched from one end of the school to the other.
“It’s hard to direct people ... we’ve had to stretch the games outside. That’s become a bit of a crazed night.”
Taylor said the current space limitations mean rooms have to serve more than one purpose, that folding chairs are stored in hallways, and parent involvement must be limited.
“I can’t have parents (at whole-school assemblies)” she said. When the school won the National School of Character award, the only way all the students could attend the assembly was because some 40 students were in the band on the stage. Parents could not attend.
On a recent Friday, Abraham Lincoln School was dealing with similar space issues. The school had not one but two ceremonies to celebrate its designation as a State School of Character because the cafeteria, the largest room, could not hold all 530 students.
Union parents are also urged to enroll younger siblings of current students on the first days of registration, Taylor said, to ensure all children in a family can attend the same school. The school currently has two classes of kindergarten; and three of most other grades.
Fourth grade this year had only two classes. Parent Merinda Wells, who has sons in fourth and first grades, said they were notified that there were too many students and some would have to go to another school.
“Here I am a single mom, with a first-grader and a fourth-grader. It’s hard enough to get between the two classes on Valentine’s Day,” she said, saying she felt lucky that her son was not required to go elsewhere.
But this year there are about five more students in his class than there were last year, and they are seated closely together at round tables where it’s easy to chat.
“It’s harder for him to concentrate in the classroom,” she said, saying that her son is well-behaved but has been “clipped down” for speaking out of turn. This year he had his first B in conduct.
“I love Union School; the staff is amazing,” she said. “It would be nice to keep a school like that thriving.”
My parents get so agitated at the size of this lot, they would be thrilled (for additional parking).
Lori Taylor, principal of Union School
Families cycle through schools
Matkowski, the district’s financial adviser, said the district is looking several years ahead, and says the population of areas is almost cyclical in how students age out of the elementary, then middle, then high schools.
“Kids don’t come in uniformly,” she said. People buy new homes that are large enough for families when they have young children so the elementary schools are immediately occupied.
“Over time, they age out and go to high school but the people still have the house,” Matkowski said. Those houses will eventually go to families, and the schools will see renewed need.
“After 12 years, they’ve had shifts of where people live in the district. Right now, where they are seeing more elementary kids, all of a sudden these buildings can’t handle the number of kids coming in,” Matkowski said.
Ittner’s suggestions for Roosevelt Elementary include adding seven classrooms, increasing the student population by 182. It would also add a secure entrance and relocate the office. Ittner’s plans, as with all the major suggested renovations, would allow the school to host after-school events while locking away the unused parts of the building.
At last month’s board meeting, Young of Ittner said construction at the school would be fairly straightforward, and “school can remain in operation.”
At that meeting, Klosterman specified that Roosevelt was considered for additions for the anticipated housing construction in Belleville.
“Some of the needs here are in anticipation in what we believe is coming,” he said, referring to areas near Frank Scott Parkway and South 11th Street that had been fields and is plotted for 180 homes on one side and 72 lots on the west side of the parkway.
“As the market comes back, we expect for homes to be built in there,” he said. “We made that subdivision Roosevelt; it was targeted for Henry Raab.”
Henry Raab elementary is locked in by streets in Belleville and is “not going to be able to accommodate it.”
Ittner’s plans for Abraham Lincoln may be among the most visible to casual observers.
It would add 10 classrooms to existing pods, clustering similar grades together. It would add rooms to West Junior High as well, but the real change would be to the buildings’ entrances.
About half of the existing parking lot between the buildings would be turned into a courtyard with a playground. Gates and signs would protect the area from bus and car drop-off as well as visitor parking; and additional parking would be added to the east and west sides of West Junior High.
“The key to this is that center planning,” Young said.
“If you’ve been to a college campus,” then it’s a familiar concept, Young said. “We’re looking to change the paradigm from a congested site ... to one of walking through the quad area to get to school. This can finally become what it was meant to be, a true campus,.
Belleville District 118 facility repairs/improvements
In addition to the construction that would add classrooms and space, the aging district buildings need repairs ranging from flooring to roofing to maintain a safe learning environment.
- Abraham Lincoln: replace windows in the old building; replace hallway flooring; install baseboard heat in four classrooms* and a boiler in the middle pod*
- Central Junior High: Repair roof; reseal parking lots
- Douglas Elementary School: Replace exterior doors and windows; replace boiler* and floor tile; air conditioning in gym; complete drop ceiling
- Franklin Elementary School: Replace windows in the new wing; install a second boiler*
- Henry Raab: Install air conditioning for gym/cafeteria; replace windows and exterior doors; add three-phase electric; finish drop ceiling
- Jefferson: Finish small part of roof; re-asphalt the teachers parking lot; boiler*; replace exterior doors
- Roosevelt: Roof the new wing; replace exterior doors and windows; re-asphalt parking lots; replace carpet in the new wing
- Union Elementary: Replace exterior doors and upgrade bathrooms in the old building; new floor tile
- Washington: Asphalt parking lot; replace boiler*
- Westhaven: Asphalt the circle drive; reseal parking lots; re-caulk windows; air condition and heat to music room; re-condition the cooling tower in five years
- West Junior High: Replace the food service roof, windows, exterior doors, bleacher motors and heaters in the hallway
- District 118: Replace roofs on annex 1 and annex 2, asphalt the annex parking lot; cyclone fence at Union, Jefferson and Roosevelt; update bathrooms and kitchen at the Professional Development Center
*Items are to be done by the district’s maintenance department