FRANCONIA — It would be tight, but Souderton Area School District could make the switch from its current half day kindergarten to full day without needing to add on to any of its buildings, a district-wide comprehensive facilities study presented at the Sept. 9 Souderton Area School Board Operations Committee concluded.
The district now has 17 half day kindergarten classes in 10 classrooms and would need 11 more classrooms to make the switch to full day, the study showed. Those additional rooms could be created by converting existing learning support spaces at elementary schools to classrooms and relocating special education classes, the study said.
With enrollment in the district decreasing slightly, there's no need to build any new schools, but also no reason to close any of the existing ones, Michael Kelly, of KCBA Architects, who presented the study, said.
“While some of those numbers in that [enrollment] study have been showing a decrease, when you look at that long-term, you're looking at roughly about 200 students lost over say five to 10 years over 13 grades,” he said.
That amounts to less than one student per class, he said.
The district's buildings are well-maintained, he said. The study was done to provide a list of things that could be considered over the next five to 10 years, he said.
“We were looking at existing conditions of buildings and we were looking at delivery of educational programs,” Kelly said. “These are schools. They need to function as schools.”
The goal was to provide an analysis for long-term planning, he said.
“No one ever does everything at once,” he said, “but the priorities are always gonna be the health, safety and welfare of the teachers and students in the building, infrastructure improvements, practical decisions that effect kids.”
The study included recommendations for possible work in elementary school buildings, but did not give cost estimates for that work. Suggestions for the high school campus included building a new varsity baseball field at a cost of $1.25 to $1.5 million.
“Our suggestion: start with the middle schools,” Kelly said. “They're two of the buildings that have the most needs. We think we can make dramatic educational improvements in their spaces there.”
Work at the two schools would affect all of the students in the school district since all the students attend one of the two schools during their middle school years, he said.
Physical building improvements recommended for the middle schools include to lighting, electrical, heating and cooling systems and plumbing, he said.
The Indian Valley Middle School recommendations include removing eight modular classrooms and moving the classes inside the building.
“They call them temporary modulars for a reason, so they're past their useful life,” Kelly said, “and, again, kudos to the maintenance staff that keeps them open and working as long as they have.”
The suggestions also include making some open spaces at both Indian Valley and Indian Crest for smaller groups of students to work collaboratively on projects, he said.
Construction costs for the Indian Crest renovations were estimated at $15,693,704. Two options were given for Indian Valley, with an estimated construction cost of $19,042,237 for renovating the existing building or $25,181,037 to renovate the building and put about a 19,000 square foot addition to the front of the building.
With the addition, Kelly said, “We have a new facade and we have an entire new music suite as well as some additional classrooms and student spaces.”
The September 9 presentation gives an overview that will be broken down into smaller parts for more discussion at future meetings, committee Chair Bill Brong said.
The administration will also be making recommendations of what is needed most at each of the buildings, Superintendent Frank Gallagher said.
“Discussing an addition to one of our middle schools is a really big conversation, but we do realize that the modulars at Valley do need to be at some point taken away,” he said. “They're the oldest in the district and the next group is West Broad.”
Elementary school recommendations given in the study included renovations at and possible expansion of Franconia Elementary School and/or West Broad Street Elementary School.
Board member Thomas Kwiatkowski said it's important to have the buildings fit in with where education is going and decisions have to be made about what is most needed.
“I'm interested in seeing where the administration priorities are and where they see we need to focus on,” he said.
“We don't know what education is gonna look like in the future,” board member Janet Flisak said. “After COVID-19 is controlled, are virtual classrooms gonna go away?”
The study was based on the capacity of the buildings when all the district students are in classrooms, she said.
“Is that going to be the same in the future that 100 percent of every grade is coming back into the classroom? Unfortunately, I don't think any of us know, but it's something that we have to consider in doing our future planning,” Flisak said.
She said she supports full day kindergarten, “but who says that a kindergarten class has to be in an elementary school?”
“I think we have to take a look back, being innovative, and look at all of our facilities, how they're utilized,” Flisak said, “and maybe distribute the utilization of those classrooms differently.”