North Tama Schools holds public input session, gives tour

When to build new gym pivotal question

A sizable crowd listens in the North Tama Schools cafeteria on Wednesday, May 4, as Andrew Bell (back let) and Devin Kack (back right) with the firms Align Architecture & Planning and Plunkett Raysich Architects, respectively, present as part of a public input session for the district’s facility study. –Photo by Soren M. Peterson

North Tama County Community School District moved one step closer to updating its facilities on Wednesday, May 4, by welcoming members of the public into the conversation through both a community input meeting and building tour.

Over the past year with the assistance of Align Architecture & Planning and Plunkett Raysich Architects, members of the North Tama school board along with Superintendent David Hill have been working to create a long-term master plan for the district’s facilities.

Following months of work by the board narrowing what originally was a list of nine facility options down to one, the public was finally able to see for themselves with clarity what the future might hold for North Tama.

The evening began in the school cafeteria with board president Rod Zobel welcoming more than 50 members of the public – including some teachers – to the meeting, after which Hill also briefly addressed the audience.

“[The district is] in great shape and there is no reason why we can’t honestly look you in the eye and say North Tama is here for the long haul,” Hill said before later stating, “[T]here are parts of our facilities that really are very inadequate when it comes to meeting the students’ needs today … While we are financially viable as a school district for the long haul, we also need to make sure that we can meet students’ needs and our facilities are a part of that.”

Devin Kack (second from right) and North Tama Secondary Principal Jeromiah Bliss (right) pictured in a cramped North Tama classroom on May 4 as they lead a group of about 20 people on a tour of the district’s facilities. –Photo by Soren M. Peterson

After Hill finished speaking, Andrew Bell with Align Architecture and Devin Kack with Plunkett Raysich Architects gave a presentation recapping the facility study to date including maintenance issues and educational space adequacy.

“If we just did maintenance for the next 10 years,” Bell said at one point during his presentation, “you have about $13 million worth of maintenance to do which is a sizable number.”

During the roughly 45 minute presentation, Kack used the changes that factory floors and offices have undergone in the last 100 years as an analogy for how different the needs of today’s learners are compared to those of a century ago when the original 1917 core building was built – a building that is still being used by North Tama students in 2022.

“The spaces need to become more multipurpose and flexible so that we can better provide proper educational environments for something that we don’t know is going to happen in 10 years from now,” Kack said.

Building tour, school finance

Traer resident Bruce Morrison looks at sub-option one of the district’s master plan which features replacing the 1917 structure before building a new 2-station gym. Yellow Post-its in favor of the order – pink not in favor – are located beneath the plans. –Photo by Soren M. Peterson

Following the facility study recap, the public was split into three groups and taken on a tour of the building. Bell, Kack, and members of the administration – including principals Susan Johnson and Jeromiah Bliss – acted as tour leaders, providing narration as the groups moved from space to space.

From basement classrooms to the third floor library and everything in-between, the public was able to experience firsthand what it is like to traverse North Tama’s sprawling campus which can often include trips up and down just a few steps even in the middle of a hallway.

Some members of the public seemed to take a particular interest in the many cramped spaces, in the school’s elevator that opens into high school teacher Matt Walston’s classroom mere feet behind a student desk, and in the industrial tech classroom that is only accessible by going outside or through the wrestling room.

From the good to the “very inadequate” – in the words of Hill – the public was given a thorough tour of the district’s facilities, warts and all, including the 1917 building.

The approximately hour-long tour then ended where it began – back in the cafeteria – after which Matt Gillaspie from the financial firm Piper Sandler gave a 30-minute presentation that explored the district’s financing options in regards to anticipated future infrastructure projects.

PHOTO BY Soren M. Peterson

The Telegraph previously reported on a similar financial presentation Gillaspie made to the board during a January 12, 2022, special work session in the January 21 edition.

Options review

Following the financial presentation, Bell and Kack presented the master plan option recently settled on by the school board – an option which includes four different phases.

The four phases include building a new high school addition to the east at an approximate cost of $12.1 million; replacing the 1917 structure at an approximate cost of $9.6 million – less than the total maintenance costs’ price tag; building a new 2-station gymnasium which would require property acquisition at an approximate cost of $5 million; and elementary school renovations at an approximate cost of $4.1 million.

The next decision to be made involves the order of the four phases – the first and fourth phases are the same in both sub-options with the first phase being a new high school and the final phase being the renovation of the elementary building.

Cramped classroom. Photo by Soren M. Peterson

When to build the new gym – before or after replacing the 1917 building – is the next hurdle to surmount which is where the public entered the conversation front and center on Wednesday evening.

The audience was asked to give feedback on the order of the phases by affixing Post-it notes with their comments to two different diagrams – one with the gym built in phase two, the other with the gym built in phase three.

Anecdotally and based on the number of yellow versus pink Post-it notes, it appeared replacing the 1917 structure before building a gym was preferred by those in attendance at the public input session.

Next steps

For a public input meeting that was advertised as lasting approximately 90 minutes with a start time of 6:30 p.m., it was past 10:00 p.m. when the final comment was stuck to the wall and members of the public began filtering out into the night air.

Another cramped learning space on the third floor of North Tama Schools' 1917 building. -Photo by Soren M. Peterson

The next step in North Tama’s facility study includes a review of the public comments at the regular meeting of the North Tama school board set for Monday, June 20, at 7:00 p.m. in the Junior High Commons.

A community survey is also planned for August or September.

For more information, community members may refer to the district’s facility study webpage: https://www.n-tama.k12.ia.us/facility

'There's an elevator in this classroom!' -Members of the public chat in front of North Tama Schools' elevator located in the third floor classroom of high school teacher Matt Walston. -Photo by Soren M. Peterson

PHOTO BY Soren M. Peterson

PHOTO BY Soren M. Peterson

PHOTO BY Soren M. Peterson