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Vote on $25.5 million bond Sept. 9

District emphasizes long term plan for four buildings;

SOLON– Let’s try to explain the vision for addressing growth in the Solon Community School District in less than 100 words:
District voters will decide on a $25.5 million bond issue at a Sept. 9 special election. Sixty percent approval will result in the construction of a new middle school building, as well as an 810-seat performing arts center addition for the high school. The new middle school, to be located west of the high school across Racine Avenue, will initially host grades five through eight. About a year after these construction projects begin, the district will bond against its sales tax revenues to remodel the existing middle school into an intermediate elementary for grades three through five.
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That covers the basics, and if you have questions about the details you should have attended the public hearing the school board hosted at the high school media center Monday, Aug. 25.
There, school board and administration members shared tables at the front of the room with the projects’ architects and construction manager, fielding questions from about 40 people for a little over an hour.
Some questions were easy to anticipate.
How many seats in the new auditorium? Answer: 810.
How will we get to the stadium? A new walkway will be added around the performing arts center.
Some questions didn’t have easy answers.
How will the new collaborative learning spaces in the middle school change philosophy and practice for delivering curriculum to students?
The answer came from Middle School Principal Mike Herdliska, who noted the open spaces designed into the new building would give teachers a lot of flexibility.
“You could have a whole grade level there if you had to,” he said of a central gathering stair designed into the commons.
The hearing started with a brief overview of the two proposed construction projects by architect Jon Davreau of Struxture Architects, accompanied by projected images of interior and exterior conceptual plans.
Based on the building site, Davreau said, the architects decided on a two-story building that will feature a lot of exterior glass to provide day lighting for the large commons and other smaller informal learning spaces.
“It’s set up for different types of teaching to embrace what’s happening with education today,” Davreau explained of the design. “It’s just a different feel from the linear classroom after classroom space that you’re in now.”
The parking lot (with a separate bus lane) will be oversized to help with overflow from high school and Spartan Stadium events, and hard surface and soft surface playgrounds will be included, he said.
The 10,790 square-foot gymnasium and the commons can be secured from the rest of the classroom spaces to allow for the easy hosting of public events, he added.
Overall educational square footage would increase compared to the existing middle school, as would the size of the cafeteria, kitchen and media center. Space would also be dedicated for a computer lab.
The performing arts center would feature a set shop, green room and costume storage, as well as an orchestra pit. The lobby will serve as an additional meeting space for the community as well as a display area for visual arts.
As part of the auditorium proposal, the current art room at the high school will be remodeled into a special education suite, and a new art room (as well as added storage for band and vocal music) will be built.
The designs are to the point conceptually where architects can use broader construction values to calculate the estimated cost, with details to be worked out with staff once the bond issue passes, Davreau said.
“I’ve never done a schematic plan and had the walls end up in the same spot, ever,” Davreau noted. “In 25 years, I’ve never done that.”
“It won’t always be everything the staff wants,” Board President Dick Schwab added, “but it will be an acceptable compromise given cost and need.”
In the case of the performing arts center, school reps and architects visited several schools with newer auditoriums, trying to take away the best ideas.
“First run out of the gate here, we’ve incorporated a lot of what we wanted to see,” said high school vocal music instructor Joel Foreman. “We were able to submit a big wish list and surprisingly had so many things come back with a yes on it. There’s just a ton of promise here. We’re very excited about it as a staff.”
A good portion of the remaining meeting focused on how a second project– the remodeling of the existing middle school (phase two)– fits in with the current proposal.
Based on the district’s guidelines for student-to-teacher ratios, the population of elementary and middle school students will soon reach levels that will require additional sections at certain grade levels.
Solon is choosing to address continued growth through the creation of a fourth attendance center (as opposed to making existing buildings bigger and bigger).
A fourth building– an intermediate elementary hosting third through fifth grade– is planned for the current middle school property.
The statewide penny sales tax for school infrastructure (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education or SAVE) provides the Solon district with about $1 million a year, Superintendent Sam Miller said, and that money can be bonded against to fund a fourth attendance center.
“There wouldn’t be a referendum and it would not have any ramifications at any point in time on your property taxes,” Miller said.
If the bond issue passes, the SAVE-funded intermediate elementary could open as early as the fall of 2017, a year after the completion of the new middle school and performing arts center.
Third and fourth grade would migrate from Lakeview to the new attendance center, as would fifth grade from the middle school, providing added capacity for the foreseeable future.
“We’re a five-section school district,” Miller said. “When you pull a grade level out, you’re typically freeing up about five classrooms.”
The district has closed open enrollment for most of the elementary grades, but if people move to Solon, the district is obliged to educate their children.
To preserve class size targets, the district will become a six-section district.
“That’s where we’re going,” Miller said. “Right now, the trend is people moving to Solon.”