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Carlton takes a closer look at school facilities

A large group of Carlton residents braved subzero temperatures Jan. 4 to participate in a meeting regarding the future of Carlton’s school facilities.

A followup to a Nov. 30 community meeting, last Wednesday’s meeting largely focused on the following question: Should the Carlton School District repair its existing schools — Carlton High School and South Terrace Elementary School — or combine the schools on the elementary school site?

Because voters passed a renewal of the school’s operating levy in November (giving the district seven more years of additional funding for day-to-day operations of the schools) the district is now able to seriously consider remodeling or building new, although voters would have to approve either option.

Held in the auditorium of the Carlton High School, the audience consisted of mostly parents within the community, school board members and representatives of Ingensa and Architectural Resources (ARI), the consulting firms hired to evaluate the school district facilities. Ingensa provides comprehensive facility project planning and engineering services to K-12 school districts across the state.

This meeting was Ingensa’s opportunity to review its findings.

But first Carlton Superintendent Gwen Carman thanked those who attended the meeting, explaining how the input of the people of the district will be crucial in these coming months.

“We need to have strong partnerships with our families and our communities,” Carman said. “We also need safe, modern and efficient school buildings.”

She then gave the floor over to Ingensa’s Wayne Gilman. Gilman is a retired superintendent from Pine City, a client of Ingensa during that time. After retiring, he joined the firm in June and has been with them ever since, travelling through various districts in Minnesota.  

“The theme of our process is community engagement,” Gilman said.

The next presenter was John Powers of Applied Insights North, a company that does research and analysis on demographics and population. Powers has been in the business since the 1970s, and his work has taken him all across Minnesota, the Dakotas and Wisconsin. He described the work as “part science, some analysis, and some educated guesswork.”

Powers prepared two projections for the attendees: one for the possibility of a new combined  building, and the other for the possibility of repairing the old ones and staying the same as the district is today. Both projections looked into the future for roughly 10 years, observing statistics such as Carlton’s population over the last few years, the amount of students living within Carlton School District boundaries and which schools they enroll in, along with possible future populations for Carlton and so on.

Carlton’s student enrollment has decreased steadily over the course of the last 10 years. There are several reasons for that, Powers noted. Primarily, there are not as many students in the district. Open enrollment also gives families the freedom to choose which schools their children attend, within limitations. Powers pointed out that fewer than half of the students living within the Carlton School District enroll in Carlton schools while many attend school in neighboring Cloquet, Esko and Wrenshall.

Powers theorized that the construction of a new school could bolster student enrollment, with the possibility of students open-enrolling from other districts as well. He did assert, however, that there was no certainty of that happening.

“These are based on assumptions, and assumptions can always be taken to task,” he said.

Ingensa’s Luke Pfotenhauer focused on the various mechanical deficiencies the schools face moving forward during the third presentation.

Both South Terrace and Carlton High School are using the original boilers installed when the buildings were constructed. Though both function thanks to extensive maintenance, they are well past their expected service life.

The same can be said for much of the plumbing in the buildings, which uses galvanized pipes. Such pipes can leach lead from the original solder and coatings over time, Pfotenhauer said. He explained, however, that that state requires testing for lead in drinking water.

The buildings also largely make use of single pane windows, which allows a considerable amount of heat to escape from the building, not ideal in Minnesota. Other problems, such as wear and tear of the parking lots, ventilation in the locker rooms and bathrooms, and outdated light fixtures were also mentioned.

After listening to all the information about the mechanics of each building, one audience member asked: “So, did you find anything that was good in the schools?”

ARI’s Scott Sosolla pointed out that both schools are still quite structurally sound. The high school also has a newer gym floor, which is still in good condition. Both schools are also sized very well for the amount of students they serve, and each classroom has an interactive smart board.

The final presenter was Katie Hildenbrand, who is in charge of assessing educational adequacy. She defined educational adequacy as: “The degree to which a school’s facilities can adequately support the instructional mission and methods of the district.” Hildenbrand showed a floor plan for both schools, highlighting which areas were serving the needs of the students well, and which areas needed improvement. She cited how several rooms have been repurposed over the years. The home economics room — a class that is no longer offered — has been transformed into a special education room. The cabinets and workstations still remain however. Similarly, the wood shop, another class that is no longer offered, is currently sitting vacant.

While Ingensa was conducting its studies of the buildings, they also talked with students and staff. Regardless of repair or rebuild, staff members are hoping they will be able to have more storage at their disposal, as well as more open learning spaces for the students.

“Students aren’t just sitting at a desk learning. They want breakout spaces, they want spaces to do group activities,” Hildenbrand said. “It’s our job to listen to how Carlton wants to deliver education.”

After all of the presentations were finished, Pfotenhauer returned to the microphone to answer questions.

The primary thing people wanted to know was the potential cost for either undertaking. The cost for repairs to South Terrace were estimated between $5.7 and $7.25 million. He said the cost for the repair of the high school would be in the area of $12 to $14 million, whereas the cost of a new high school with roughly the same square footage would be closer to $19 million. Carman said they don’t have an estimate for a preK-12 building because this study was about looking at existing facilities.

South Terrace was constructed in 1962, while Carlton High School contains wings built in 1914, 1953 and 1969.

Another audience member asked how much time the repairs would buy for the old buildings. While there could be no real certainty, Pfotenhauer guessed that the life would be under 15 years. A new building would more reasonably have a life of 15-20 years before problems would start to arise, but certain things like flooring would deteriorate quicker.

“Kids are hard on buildings.” Pfotenhauer said.

After the question-and-answer session was concluded, Carman assured everyone attending that no decisions have been made and that this is going to continue to be a very interactive process.

“I am optimistic,” she said. “I am excited about the future of Carlton schools.”

If the school board decides to take action to address facility inadequacies, it could consider a May 2017 bond referendum, according to the school district website.

The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 28, and will largely be for Native American members of the district, and will be a celebration luncheon for the kids, as well as a chance to provide parents with a lot of the information that was presented at this meeting. Following that, there will be a second public engagement meeting Feb. 1, which will elaborate on the findings that were discussed at this meeting, as well as discussion on which of the two options will be pursued further. A third public engagement meeting is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 22. There’s still a very long road ahead here for Carlton and its schools.

Want to know more? The entire presentation is online at http://www.carlton.k12.mn.us/about/facility-planning.

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