Grafton – Improved communication and close attention to timing are among the priorities that have developed from the first few meetings of an ad hoc facilities advisory committee of the Grafton School Board.
Formed this summer to help determine the next steps after a failed referendum in April, the committee was scheduled to have its fourth meeting last week.
Voters in spring rejected a $47.7 million referendum for renovation and reconstruction work at Grafton High School, John Long Middle School and Kennedy, Woodview and Grafton elementary schools. Despite a community survey that showed support for the plan, the referendum failed by 206 votes.
Voters also declined borrowing $1.8 million to upgrade outdoor physical education, athletic and recreation areas by a margin of 268 votes.
Following listening sessions after the failed referendum, Jody Andres of Hoffman Planning, Design and Construction, Inc. explained the goals of the district have been focused almost entirely on listening to what the community has to say and planning accordingly.
“After the referendum failed, the district knew it needed to take a brand new look at what the options are from a facilities standpoint for the school district,” said Andres, who is a senior project architect for Hoffman and was also involved with the planning of the April referendum. “The (Sept. 7) meeting focused a lot on communication and the importance of making sure the community has a little bit more information if they’re going to (go to referendum) again.”
If at first …
The plan is to approach voters with another referendum as soon as April, Andres said, noting that the turnaround time is also on the forefront of everyone’s minds as planning is underway.
“We are all on the same page and know what needs to happen between now and January to go back to referendum in April,” Andres said. “It’s definitely an aggressive time frame, but it’s doable.”
Eight different options are on the table, with a priority being placed on Grafton Elementary School, the school deemed to be in the “worst condition,” according to Andres.
Whether to demolish Grafton Elementary and start fresh or fix it up are among the ideas being considered by the committee, in addition to an overall reconfiguration of how district facilities are utilized.
“There are needs at each of the five facilities, but one of the main considerations is whether to reduce the number of facilities they are trying to staff and maintain or try to work with everything they already have.”
Analyzing needs versus wants is also high on the priority list for both the ad hoc committee and the district as it moves forward with the April referendum, according to Superintendent Jeff Nelson, who was hired earlier this year.
Needs remain same
“The building needs didn’t change since the failed referendum,” Nelson said. “They still exist, but we’ve really gone back to the drawing board because we need to work on understanding what the real needs are for us to move forward and continue to evolve as an educational system.”
It’s about more than the buildings, he added, which members of the ad hoc committee have been touring recently aside from attending the twice-monthly meetings.
“We understand there is a perception that something might seem excessive and something might not seem like we’re doing enough,” Nelson said. “Ultimately this is not just about how this affects our buildings, but how it affects our educational system as a whole.”
That could mean restructuring elementary schools to be more efficient as the district strives to find ways to avoid spending an extra $60,000 a year bussing students to an elementary classroom with slightly more room.
“There are definite inefficiencies there when you think of a child getting bussed to another school if the class size gets too large where they were meant to enroll,” Nelson said. “Not only that, but we are looking at long-range planning for our facilities, keeping in mind that with each building there are recurring maintenance needs to consider.”
Ultimately, Andres said the goal of the next referendum will be for everyone involved to approach it as more of a collaboration than the failed attempts earlier this year.
“We understand the work that needs to be done this time around and I feel confident the people are in place to do a good job to see it through,” he said.
The ad hoc committee meets at 6 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month at Grafton Elementary School, 1800 Washington St.