PITTSBURG — "Safer rooms" is a common saying among principals at George Nettels, Meadowlark and Westside Elementary schools.
The saying was each principals’ response to the existing storm shelter situation at their school. All have a similar shelters in the event of a tornado.
“Currently, the storm shelters are two of our classrooms. The storm shelters that we currently use are considered safer rooms,” said Diane Jackson, principal at George Nettels. “When they were built, they met the guidelines to be considered safe rooms. However, we now have new guidelines and these rooms do not meet those guidelines.”
The rooms are considered "safer" because of additional reinforcements to the structure of the classrooms. And a metal panel that can be cranked to cover the window from the inside.
At George Nettels, 364 students “pile” into two rooms in the event of severe weather, Meadowlark 382 students into two rooms and Westside 256 students into three rooms.
A proposed bond, currently in the hands of roughly 12,000 registered voters within the district, could add a multipurpose, storm shelter at each elementary. Each shelter is roughly 6,000 square feet and estimated at $1.5 million.
Each would connect to the school and be used as a second gym. Meadowlark is the only one of the three currently without a full size gym.
“Having a full size gym will also allow our physical education classes to incorporate more activities that would normally have to be done outside to the inside,” said Principal Becky Bedene.
Meadowlark’s proposal, estimated at $2.8 million, would also allow some classes to be repurposed, allowing for teaching in an environment separate from a lecture setting.
George Nettels, estimated at $3.2 million, also calls for a kitchen renovation and cafeteria expansion. Jackson was not sure of the exact renovations, but said the plan is to expand the cafeteria into the current gym. At lunch, roughly 125 children are in the cafeteria at a time. It is packed, she said.
Westside, estimated at $3.1 million, would also get a kitchen renovation and cafeteria expansion. Again, the cafeteria would expand into the current gym, which is only separated by a wall.
The proposal would increase the infrastructure for the computer lab on the north side of the school. The connection is spotty, Principal Ann Lee said.
Another large component of the proposal calls for fifth graders being moved to the middle school. Essentially, freeing up three to four classrooms at each school and moving roughly 230 fifth graders to another school.
The move would help with the overcrowding principals at all schools have mentioned. Each elementary school has at least one grade “maxed out.”
As a district rule, a maxed out grade means having 24 students in each class.
The overcrowding has been questioned by a group called Vote No on School Bond. On their Facebook page, the group cited a study from PBA Architects, a company hired by the district during the preliminary stages of the bond campaign.
The study says the enrollment is below the recommended enrollment for all schools except George Nettels.
An associate at PBA Architects would not comment. Instead he recommended forming “your own opinion” based on the study.
Superintendent of Schools Destry Brown said that particular enrollment count was based on total square footage and not “useable space.”
Brown pointed to another spreadsheet included in PBA Architects’ report, but done by the legislature in 1999. That study shows in 1999, based on useable space, George Nettels and the high school were over capacity. Westside’s enrollment at the time was 12 students away from capacity. Meadowlark was not counted in the study.
Additions have been made on all but the high school since that study, but Brown said enrollment has increased at a rate greater than the additions.
The figures on usable class space was provided to legislatures by the district.
The ballot was mailed to registered voters on Jan 8. The post marked envelope with ballot will need to be received by the county clerk no later than noon on Jan. 28. The district will know the results of the bond later that day. The $67.6 million bond would cost $11.81 a month for a home valued at $100,000 within the district. For a business valued at $100,000 it would cost $308.05 a year. The term is for 25 years.
— Michael Stavola is a staff writer at The Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MichaelStavola1.