At its last regular meeting on Thursday, September 8, the school board heard a presentation from architect Mike Ruetschle who presented early drafts of potential floor plans for local public school renovations.
Ruetschle, who was hired by the district to assess facility improvement needs, first presented the draft plans at a Sept. 1 meeting of the facilities committee; the committee formed in March to explore the feasibility of a phased permanent improvement plan to repair and upgrade buildings in the district.
The draft plans included a number of deep renovations and new constructions intended to address issues such as safety, functionality, space and accessibility in schools. An initial and more detailed report on Ruetschle’s presentation is available in the September 8 issue of the News.
Speaking to the school board, Ruetschle stressed that the draft plans represent the first step in an “iterative process” and are not final.
“The journey starts from here,” with further discussion and input from the school board, committee and staff, he said, on “how this plan, this vision might evolve.”
To that end, the board responded to the presentation with questions and comments about potential additions and increases to the draft plans.
Vice President Dorothée Bouquet and Board Member Luisa Bieri-Rios asked about improved storm shelters for schools; Ruetschle said the newly constructed rooms on the draft plans for both campuses could serve as storm shelters if their walls were hardened in accordance with the state’s current storm shelter requirements. (A statewide moratorium on retrofitting storm shelters to withstand 250-mile-per-hour winds, a requirement that current school storm shelters do not meet, is due to expire on November 30 of this year.)
Bouquet also asked about changes that could be made to the large floor-to-ceiling windows in the classrooms of the newer part of Mills Lawn. The teachers, she said, said they felt insecure about the possibility of an intruder and that they “wouldn’t know where to hide”.
Ruetschle said egress windows, which would provide an emergency exit, could be installed, along with large blinds to block the view from outside. He also suggested adding security film to the windows, which would help strengthen them against penetration.
Another concern expressed by several council members was that the plans did not include any renovations or new construction dedicated to the theater performance space. Ruetschle said the current high school gymnasium stage could be outfitted with stage lights and other equipment to make it performance-ready, but McKinney and YS High School Principal Jack Hatert claimed the gymnasium, already heavily used for sporting events, couldn’t support both use at the same time.
Another concern for Ruetschle and the board members was that the plans did not include a major renovation of the gymnasium itself; although the gymnasium is regulation size, the space between the baseline and the walls is less than the requirements by about three inches. To expand that space, Ruetschle said, would require retooling the pitch and removing part of the stage.
Other issues expressed by the council included concerns that new and refurbished kitchens and dining areas may still be insufficient, providing natural light for interior offices and an adequate number of gender-neutral bathrooms, which , according to Ruetschle, could be solved.
The council is yet to hear preliminary reports from the district’s contracted maintenance plan advisor, Motz Engineering, who will advise on improvements to building exteriors and long-term maintenance. Michael Murdock will present Motz’s initial report at the Facilities Committee meeting on October 6. Ruetschle and Murdock will present revised drafts of their plans over the coming months.
Superintendent Terri Holden reminded council that further data collection and discussion is still to come, and said it’s possible not all identified needs will be addressed in a final draft of potential floor plans.
“At some point we have to see the big picture,” she said. “But even with the whole picture, we’re going to have to make choices.”
Ruetschle’s draft floor plans, along with a timeline of the facilities committee’s work so far, videos of past meetings, and documents from those meetings, are available online at ysschools.org/facilities.
Approved Mills Lawn Fences
The board unanimously approved Holden’s request to install a fence, at a cost of up to $25,000, to enclose the Mills Lawn Young Student Playground. The installation was initially discussed at the August 29 board work session on safety and security, although no decision was made at that time.
Reasons given for considering fencing were to keep small children safe on the playground, which adjoins two streets; and physically limiting public access to that part of the school grounds, which is closed to the public during the school day.
Holden said approximately 600 feet of black rubberized chain-link fencing would be needed to fence off the area; the fence will be four feet high. The district has received a quote for the fence from a potential contractor and will receive two more; Holden said she was told by potential contractors to expect construction delays.
She added that the district did not intend to “keep the public out”, but reminded those present that the playground is used every school day by students and that the district “must take measures to ensure the safety of students”.
“It’s certainly not to discourage after-hours or weekend use – I think we might have to play by ear,” she said, and quoted the comments. teachers and board members regarding hazardous materials being left on the playground. “Hopefully we can stop this because the goal is not to keep anyone out.”
In other school board business on September 8:
• Holden announced that the district is in talks with MVECA, located at 888 Dayton St., to lease space at the facility to relocate district offices. The current district offices, located across Mills Lawn in the old village library, “no longer meet the needs” of the district employees who work there, Holden said.
The space at the MVECA, she added, would be an improvement in terms of accessibility and sufficient space. Holden will bring the matter before the board of directors at its next regular meeting on Thursday, October 13.
• Mills Lawn Principal Megan Winston said the school had recently installed ‘sensory pathways’ in its hallways. Colorful guided moves line the walls and floors outside classrooms and prompt students to follow simple instructions, like pushing against the wall, playing hopscotch or following a trail of numbers. The pathways, Winston said, give students the opportunity to use their brains and bodies when they “experience frustration, anxiety, or other sensory overload during the school day.”
• Hatert reported that McKinney Middle School’s annual “Into the Wild” bike trip for seventh graders, now in its seventh year, will be featured in the nationally circulated Rails to Trails magazine.
• Holden and District Treasurer Jay McGrath will deliver a State of the Schools Address on Wednesday, October 12 beginning at 7:00 pm at Mills Lawn Gymnasium.