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Looking for ideas

District open to all options for middle school use
Solon school district superintendent Davis Eidahl discusses possible uses for the old middle school building during a joint meeting between the Solon City Council and the school board July 10 at Solon City Hall. The district is seeking proposals on how the building could serve the public. (photos by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– What are you going to do with the vacated middle school?
It’s not a question the Solon Community School District is in a hurry to answer, but it’s been posed and was discussed at a joint meeting of the city council and school board July 10.
“We’ve been wrestling with that and discussing it as a board ever since a decision was made that we were going to build new,” Superintendent Davis Eidahl told city council members. “Right now we’ve just been ears open and gathering suggestions for use of the facility we’re vacating portions of.”
The middle school has been replaced with a new facility located on 11 acres along Racine Avenue adjacent to the high school. The new middle school will open for the coming school year.
The district originally intended to remodel the old middle school into a fourth attendance center, but decided eventually to go with new construction of Solon Intermediate School, on the grounds of the former football stadium and practice field.
The tower of the old middle school will remain in use for the school system’s administrative offices, Eidahl said, while the growing robotics club will occupy the lower level.
But the other portions of the school will not likely be needed by the district, he said.
And that might include the middle school gymnasium, which received a new floor.
The gym will still be important to the district, Eidahl said, but with current construction projects, it’s anticipated the former middle school gym might be available for use by the city.
Some type of public use is also being sought for the remainder of the property, including the auditorium, band and choir rooms, the middle school offices, classrooms and a stand-alone science building.
“Several ideas have been presented to us,” Eidahl said.
The auditorium, he said, seats more than 400 and has been suggested as a possible location for the Eastern Iowa Brass Band or as a venue for showing films.
The district is also open to any use the city might be able to derive from the site, he said.
“We haven’t made any decisions on that building, we don’t want to make any decisions yet until we weigh all options,” Eidahl added.
Significant investments were made updating the building over the last 15 years, the most recent in 2012 with a new floor, painting and lighting for the gym.
All classrooms in the old building have air conditioning, but gym, locker rooms, hallways, commons and cafeteria do not, according to middle school principal Mike Herdliska.
“Right now we have no plans for demolition,” noted school board member Rick Jedlicka. “We’re going to make the best use of the space as we can and hopefully the city can partner with us on whatever space you need.
“In my mind, you would be the first priority,” he continued. “If there’s a need there for this community, we want to take full advantage of that.”
The science building has its own bathroom, three classrooms and a kitchenette, he said. “There’s a lot of uses for that building.”
Once all the ideas are on the table, Jedlicka said, the city and school can sort out the details, like how costs might be shared.
There will be some needs for the old middle school, he said, especially as the district works to complete its current facility projects.
In September 2014, district voters approved a $25.5 million school bond issue to fund the new middle school building, as well as the performing arts center addition to the high school.
Solon Intermediate School is being financed with Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) sales tax revenue. The two-story, 44,225-square-foot building is expected to open in the fall of 2018 as an intermediate elementary housing fourth and fifth grades.
The final piece in the package of upgrades is an addition to Solon High School built with a gift by the Gerdin Family Foundation.
Construction on the addition started after the end of the school year, and its completion is expected to coincide with Solon Intermediate in the fall of next year.
The high school addition includes a new practice gymnasium, and the middle school has its own gym, Jedlicka said, while Solon Intermediate will have a large common area which could be used for practices.
“We’re going to have plenty of gyms in a couple of years,” he said. “We’re thinking we can accommodate all of our team practices seven through 12 at our new facilities. There will be times where we may need that gym, but not on a regular basis.”
He asked the city to consider possible uses and report back to the board.
There was little in the way of input from council members, although Mayor Steve Stange asked school board members if they would ever need the building back for instructional use.
Jedlicka noted it was better to have the building for temporary use, noting the alternative would be renting modular units or being forced to find another location.
But school board president Dick Schwab didn’t think that was too likely.
“I think the district would be pretty hesitant to come back into that building,” he said.
The board abandoned renovation costs because, for about the same amount of money, the district was able to build a new facility designed for high teaching and security standards, he said.
Solon Intermediate and the new middle school were planned with future additions incorporated into the layout, he said, while the high school still has room for expansion.
“It’s unlikely we’re going to go back to that building for classroom education,” Schwab said.
Board member Jim Hauer agreed.
“If we did, it’d be on a one-year, temporary basis,” Hauer noted.
Schwab said the city and school have a history of collaborating on projects, citing the success of the Solon Recreation and Nature Area.
Putting that kind of partnership together again for a public facility would be a good option for the board and council to consider, he said.