The Ottumwa Courier

Education

March 5, 2013

Shuffling students between schools

New elementary school opening means two schools will close, one will undergo renovations this fall

OTTUMWA — With the new elementary school opening this fall, the south side’s four other elementary schools will need to shuffle around some students.

Ottumwa Superintendent Davis Eidahl said the four south side schools (Agassiz, Douma, Pickwick and Wildwood) will see some changes this fall in terms of who goes where.

By August, all second- through fifth-graders currently attending one of the four south side elementary schools will move to the new school.

All kindergarten and first-grade students on the south side will attend either Agassiz or Wildwood for the 2013-14 school year while Douma is closed for renovations. Those kindergarteners and first-grade students currently attending Douma will go to Agassiz for the year; those currently attending Pickwick will go to Wildwood for the year.

To begin the 2014-15 school year, only two schools will serve the south side: the new elementary school and Douma.

“We’re closing Douma for one year because we’re going inside to reconfigure and completely renovate the school, making it conducive for K-1 students,” Eidahl said.

Structurally, Douma is one of the best schools in town, he said.

“The envelope, or exterior, is in excellent shape,  and the brick that makes up the outer structure is in great shape,” he said. “The roof was replaced within the last 10 years ... and we just replaced within the last two years all the windows and doors.”

What needs to change is the interior.

“We’ll go inside the building and reconfigure it to bring it up to ADA compliance and also the learning centers within the building are open so we’re going to enclose those, making it a more conducive learning environment,” he said. “It will have a completely different look from the inside when we’re finished with it.”

The construction will also add a vestibule to the front of the school, which will move the main office to the front of the building where all traffic enters.

Douma Principal Jeff Hendred said in his 20 years as principal, Douma has never seen renovations like it will see next year. Thinking back on his time at the school, one of the few changes he can remember — and it was small at that — was carpet installation.

“When we reconfigure the building, we are going to make available 10 sections for kindergarten and 10 for first grade,” Eidahl said. “We’re configuring the building at Douma because with K-1, we like to have a little smaller class size. Will we fill all 10? Maybe not. But with the growth we saw this year in kindergarten, we’re making sure to accommodate for years to come.”

Kindergarten registration this Thursday will give the district a better idea of what it will see this fall in numbers of kindergarten students as well as examining current preschool numbers.

Eidahl reminded parents that if they live in the Pickwick neighborhood, registration will take place at Wildwood. If they live in the Douma neighborhood, registration will take place at Agassiz.

“We’re very thrilled and fortunate to have, in the fall of 2014, two state-of-the-art buildings for K-5 students on the south side,” he said.

One definite is that Pickwick will close completely. The school board hasn’t made a final decision yet on what will happen to Wildwood and Agassiz, though they have considered making Agassiz the preschool site for the district, but nothing has been decided, Eidahl said.

Last month, the school board approved a $4.9 million renovation to Douma, all of which will be paid for through the statewide School Infrastructure Local Option (SILO) sales tax.

“This is a sales tax penny that goes toward facilities and improvements,” he said.

After every county in Iowa passed the sales tax in 2004, the “statewide penny,” as it’s commonly called, will give each school district a certain amount of money per pupil to be used for facility renovations.

“We have used that penny to renovate and add on to Evans, we’ve used it for smaller projects across the district, it’s paying for the new elementary school and it will fund the Douma renovation,” he said. “So all of these facility upgrades, none of that funding is the result of a local property tax. We’re fortunate to have that, because we’re not burdening our taxpayers on their property. When an individual goes to Des Moines to shop at Jordan Creek, part of that penny is coming back to Ottumwa.”

The adoption of the SILO tax also dropped what the school district levies on property tax by approximately $3.

“We’ve kept it below $15, and we’ve continued to renovate and upgrade facilities,” he said.

The construction of the new school is expected to cost $13.3 million, and around 750 students on Ottumwa’s south side will attend. The building itself is 99,000 square feet.

Talks are also continuing about a similar reconfiguration of schools on Ottumwa’s north side, Eidahl said. North side schools include Eisenhower, Horace Mann, James and Wilson Elementary Schools.

“The configuration we have for the south side is one I’m very excited about,” he said. “It will be a tremendous benefit for our students and for our teachers, as far as their professional learning and growth all under one roof.”

But a new elementary school on the north side is five to eight years down the road, he said.

“As we project out with our 1-cent sales tax, we would also look to utilize that money on the north side when we address those facilities,” he said.

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