WCHS seeks architectural language

Donelle Pardee Whiting

With Washington experiencing a recent population increase thanks to residential growth, city schools are noticing the crunch.

Central Grade School already had a referendum in an effort to expand the school to eliminate the need for portable classrooms.

Washington Community High School is also experiencing tight quarters.

WCHS board of education members addressed the issue of possible renovation and/or expansion during its regular meeting Feb. 11.

School board members voted to have superintendent Dr. Jim Dunnan reword a legal notice after board member Brian Butler said he had misgivings about rushing into anything.

Butler said he believed the notice would project the wrong message. He added he thought residents would interpret the notice to mean the school would be getting an addition.

“I am concerned we are putting the cart before the horse,” Butler said, adding that whatever school board members do to improve the school beyond simple maintenance would require a referendum, because the high school district is under a tax limitation.

WCHS district, as are districts 50, 51 and 52, is limited on the amount of a property tax increase.

Butler said because he did not quite see a need yet, he felt it best to have all information and options prior to the time for a referendum.

Gloria McNett said faculty, across the board, need more, and better, space.

She added that the high school faced a similar issue in 1952, when the school needed major upgrades.

Although the school is still functional, “The building is no longer adequate,” McNett said, adding, “The building needs renovating.”

McNett said if the board was going to approve renovations, it cannot wait until right before it is absolutely critical.

“In defense of (Dunnan and assistant superintendent Steve Zimmerman), they have assessed and ‘Band Aided’ as best as possible,” McNett said, “We are ready to look at options and need to start with this.”

Jim Gerkin said when Central started discussing expansion, the board hired someone to come in and assess the school.

Dunnan said there is a list of concerns regarding the school, and hiring someone to assess the school is a starting point.

“There are things that really need to be tackled in phases,” Dunnan said, adding that one example is the building is not energy efficient.

Butler said he was not against approving improvements to the school. However, he added, he was concerned about the wording in the legal notice.

The planned notice stated the school board was interested in selecting a firm for architectural services because members were considering an addition to the building in the next three years.

Butler said he was unaware the board was even considering an addition.

Several board members said it was discussed during the planning session after Butler left because of another commitment.

Dunnan said he is not sure exactly what would need to be done to improve the school, which is why he is requesting the board approve contracting an architect to assess the building and the district’s needs.

Louise Kanive said she was confused by the term architect, thinking his job would be to draw plans for an addition.

Once hired, an architectural firm would come in, assess the current status of the building and its capacity.

The evaluation would also assess what needs to be done to improve the school and prepare for anticipated future growth.

Dunnan said he “would not want to tackle even window replacement without someone with expertise.”

He added the architect would stay and oversee any work that is done.

Butler said “I am concerned we are being shortsighted. We need to be considering upkeep.”

Butler repeated that his main concern was the language of the notice.

Board president Tim Custis said hiring an architect is a way to get information needed on what the school needs and options for improvement.

“We are not guaranteeing a new building or a wing. We are not rushing. We are proceeding with caution,” she added.

Following the lengthy discussion, the board agreed to have Dunnan and Zimmerman work with an attorney on the wording of the legal notice and include the words “potential renovation or addition.”