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JCPS weighing options for future facilities projects

JCPS weighing options for future facilities projects

November 24th, 2017 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

Simonsen Ninth Grade Center

New elementary, middle, fifth- and sixth-grade schools, and a learning center are possibilities being considered for the future of Jefferson City Public Schools facilities.

JCPS Superintendent Larry Linthacum told the Board of Education's facilities committee Tuesday of future options for Simonsen 9th Grade Center and what could be done with no-tax-increase bond issues.

Local voters in April approved raising the district's tax levy to fund a bond issue to build a second high school and renovate the existing one.

"We feel confident we could do a $50 million bond issue in 2021 with no tax rate increase," JCPS chief operating and financial officer Jason Hoffman said Tuesday of using equity built through the expanded bonding capacity.

The district's second high school is planned to open for its first students in fall 2019.

That means Simonsen has one school year left after the current one before its students move on.

Linthacum said no final recommendation to the board has been made on Simonsen's fate, but he anticipates such a recommendation would be made by the beginning of school next year.

He said the building is structurally sound.

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"Obviously, it's a building that was built in 1904. At the end of the day, we feel that it wasn't the best learning environment for 700 kids, but that it could be for 150 or 200 kids," Linthacum said.

The district is assessing its needs, he said, and Simonsen might fit into addressing them as a K-8 learning center — not an alternative school — that could co-exist with Jefferson City Academic Center as a place where students could focus on improving reading or social skills, for example.

"That's a part of the puzzle that we're trying to be proactive with," he said of evaluating needs and possible solutions, which has involved talking with principals at monthly meetings.

Director of Facilities Bob Weber said Simonsen will need some mechanical work — with 25-year-old systems — and classroom electrical systems probably will need updated components.

"Overall, I'm not concerned about the building and especially if you compress it down to 200 kids," Weber said.

The building is ADA-accessible, and almost all of it has access by elevator, but there is one area in the weight room and agriculture area that students in wheelchairs can access only by going outside and around the building, Weber said.

Beyond Simonsen's fate, the district has other facility needs that future no-tax-increase bond issues could fund.

"Our elementary schools as a whole, we are short on space, and our middle schools are definitely over capacity," Linthacum said.

Future options might be a third middle school across the Missouri River in Holts Summit, new elementary schools on the east and west sides of Jefferson City, or a building for fifth- and sixth-graders at the campuses of the current Lewis and Clark and Thomas Jefferson middle schools.

"Staffing-wise, your operating (cost) doesn't go up a ton. It makes all your elementaries that are overcrowded K-4. It makes both middle schools that are overcrowded 7-8 junior high," Linthacum said of the latter idea.

"We have the space on those campuses. That's a part we're going to add to that mix of exploring the recommendations of the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee," he added.

He added, considerations will be judged based on costs and "what is the best learning environment."