Last week, the Grinnell-Newburg school district purchased the former Iowa Telecom Property on 11 11th Ave. from the city of Grinnell for 387,000 dollars. The 12.1-acre piece of property will be the new site of Grinnell-Newburg Middle School, which will now accommodate sixth through eighth grade rather than fifth through eighth grade. The three elementary schools, Bailey Park Elementary, Fairview Elementary and Davis Elementary, will be combined into one collective elementary school accommodating pre-kindergarten to fifth grade on the current site of Grinnell-Newburg Middle School.
Although the City Council vote was unanimous, the decision to sell the school board the property was originally contested amongst City Council members.
“Some of us were disappointed that we couldn’t use that property for additional housing but obviously the council felt that the greatest need was for school purposes,” said Mayor Gordon Canfield of Grinnell.
Canfield also noted that the city of Grinnell did not make a profit off of the sale because “the city is not in the business of real estate.”
The school board had been considering this plan for a while now, especially since the current middle school site was no longer sustainable for long-term use.
According to Lisa Johnson, CFO and Business Manager of the Grinnell-Newburg Community School District, the middle school site had a multitude of construction problems, such as thin walls, small classrooms and poor heating and air conditioning units.
“That building was built in the early 70s, I believe. There were a lot of corners cut when that building was built … But now it’s actually our most expensive building to maintain between the utility and maintenance,” Johnson said. “Our maintenance guy can’t get parts for [the heating and air conditioning unit] anymore, so he basically makes the parts to fix it when we have issues.”
The property on 11th Ave. was chosen as the new construction site partly due to its proximity to Grinnell-Newburg High School.
“With the proximity to the high school, some of those facilities could be shared and perhaps some of the staff could more easily go between buildings,” Johnson said. “Those two schools tend to share more resources than you would between a middle school and an elementary school or an elementary school and high school. So the proximity was also key.”
The former Telecom property is smaller than the current middle school site, but Johnson notes that this should not be a problem considering the new middle school will now be accommodating one less grade.
“Teacher preference kind of suggests in a lot of the academic curriculum [that] most of it is based sixth through eighth, and then ninth through 12th … That’s kind of been a lot of the conversation on where you split the grade levels,” she said.
Now that the site of the new middle school has been approved, this Wednesday, Oct. 8, the school board will vote on the most cost-effective plan to construct the new middle school. The board has two options: either keep the structure of the Telecom property and just do additional remodeling of the building, or tear the building down completely to build the middle school from scratch.
“Just from our discussions, and I can’t speak for the entire board, but … based on the information that the architect gave us at our last meeting, the old Telecom building would be a nice fit for a repurpose. I think that any time that you can repurpose a facility is a plus … they would make it look very nice … you wouldn’t probably know that that was a repurposed building,” said Superintendent Todd Abrahamson.
Once the board has made a decision on which plan they will be moving towards, the board will issue a public bond issue vote in April. From the public bond issue vote, the residents of Grinnell have the opportunity to approve whether or not they want to allow the school district to levy taxes in order to pay for the reconstruction.
With the empty middle school site, the school board plans to build one collective elementary school from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade on that property. Grinnell currently has three elementary schools that accommodate a variety of grade ranges: Fairview Elementary is a pre-kindergarten to second grade facility, Bailey Park Elementary is for kindergarten to second grade and Davis Elementary is a third to fourth grade facility.
This format was found to be largely inefficient for parents, teachers and transitioning students, which prompted the school board to seek out one collective elementary school. However, this construction plan will not be implemented until after the new middle school is built.
“Most likely what I think will probably happen is we will do the remodeling of the middle school on the 11th Ave. site first, and then allow the sixth through eighth [grade] students to move over there first,” Johnson said. “We have a couple of smaller classes in our elementarys right now that for a year while a new elementary is being built at the middle school, we could probably shift enough students around so that our three current elementary schools [can] hold a fifth grade.”
According to Abrahamson, feedback regarding these large changes has been largely positive. If all perceived voting results go as planned, construction on the new middle school will begin over the summer.