The Gillespie CUSD 7 school board also gave its stamp of approval for Tom Hyde of Graham & Hyde Architects, Springfield, to proceed with further planning and design work related to the construction of a new science lab for Gillespie Middle School on a motion by Dennis Tiburzi, seconded by Bill Carter. The board voted unanimously to proceed with plans for building a new middle school science lab following a brief presentation by Hyde detailing preliminary plans for the project.
Hyde emphasized that the plan is “a preliminary plan” based on discussions with administrators and staff from last spring. While the final plan will be subject to revisions over the next couple of months, Hyde said he would like to have the project finalized in time to advertise for bids in February or March with an eye toward having the project ready to open by the second semester of the 2018-19 school year.
Under his tentative schedule, major work, including asbestos abatement, moving walls, and plumbing work would be done during the summer break between the current school year and the 2018-19 academic year. Finishing work would be done during the first semester when students already are in attendance.
“When the kids come back, they’ll be able to walk down a finished corridor,” Hyde said, adding that the total scope of the work probably will take about eight months to complete. “We’re probably looking at a year from today (to complete the project),” he said.
The tentative plan calls for the lab to be located on the west side of the northwest wing of the middle school facility adjacent to the band room and across the hall from the chorus room.
The tentative plan calls for the lab to be located on the west side of the northwest wing of the middle school facility adjacent to the band room and across the hall from the chorus room. Part of the summer work, Hyde said, would include installation of sound absorbing materials on the wall between the band room and science lab. To gain square footage, the east wall of the classroom would be moved out, eliminating locker space in that section of the corridor.
The lab itself is projected to include three distinct rooms—a traditional lab capable of seating 36 students, a “flexible” classroom space for group projects capable of seating 32 students, and a “Lego “ lab/robotics center capable of accommodating 32 students. Additionally, the plan includes storage space, a six-unit computer center for independent student and three-dimensional printers in the Lego lab area.
Hyde tentatively projected the cost of the project at $520,000, excluding furniture and non-permanent equipment. Tieman said the district plans to pay for the project with money accruing to the district from the county-wide school facilities sales tax that was implemented last year. Proceeds from the sales tax is earmarked for capital projects and improvements to school facilities, but cannot be used for equipment costs such as computers and moveable furnishings.
Tieman noted that construction of a middle school science lab was among the issues the district cited when urging voters to approve the county-wide school facilities sales tax two years ago.
“Aside from the fact that it (the science lab) is sorely needed,” Tieman said, “this is a pledge we made to the community.”
Tieman said he had spoken with both local banks about borrowing up to $600,000 for the project to be paid back with sales tax funds. Based on those conversations he said the district would be obligated to pay $130,000 to $135,000 annually to service the debt over five years. The district is receiving about $360,000 in sales tax revenue every year, Tieman said, 20 percent of which is obligated for paying down bonded debt incurred for capital projects such as the new elementary school. Even with the 20 percent obligated for debt reduction and annual payments of $130,000 for the science lab, the district would have about $150,000 remaining every year “that we can bank or use for other projects,” Tieman said.
“I think financially we can do this,” Tieman concluded.
“I think financially we can do this,” Tieman concluded.
Tieman said the district already has received some donations of cash from community members and organizations to help pay for laptop computers, lab equipment and other amenities for which sales tax revenue cannot be spent. He said once the community is aware that the district is moving ahead with the science lab plans, he expects additional donations will come in.
“I can find the funding,” he said. “When it’s ready to open, we will have a state-of-the-art STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) lab.”
Middle School Principal Jill Rosentreter said the lab is “a dream come true for middle school science.” She said current classroom space is not capable of providing students with the hands-on educational activities that are required for students to meet current science curriculum standards.
After a brief discussion between the board and Hyde, Hyde agreed to develop an alternative plan that would include a vented safety hood for chemical experiments and demonstrations. The current tentative plan doesn’t include such equipment.
President Hayes asked whether it would be more expensive to install a hood at a later date after the lab is completed.
“You could add it at a later date,” Hyde responded, “but it’s always cheaper to do it today.” Hyde noted, however, that the trend among school districts is to eliminate hands-on experiments with chemicals, relying instead on computer simulations.
Middle School Principal Jill Rosentreter said the lab is “a dream come true for middle school science.”
“I think part of it is chemical storage,” said high school biology teacher Michelle Smith. “As you know, we spent a couple of thousand last year disposing of chemicals that were here long before I came. If we’re talking about a high school lab, it might be different.”
Hayes said offering hands-on chemistry experience could be crucial in preparing students for college where hands-on chemical experimentation is routine. Rosentreter, however, said there currently is no need for a hood to accommodate chemistry experiments at the middle school level.
“There’s no need currently,” Hayes emphasized. He suggested the hood might be wise in anticipation of any kind of circumstances that would require high school students to use the middle school lab. He noted that the district has in recent years shifted classroom use in response to emergencies such as the loss of the former Benld Elementary School.
Ultimately, Hyde agreed with Tieman’s suggestion to price the project with and without a hood.