October 4, 2007 at 8:14 a.m.
Chisago Lakes School District 2007 Referendum

Addition will replace temporary building with permanent structure

Addition will replace temporary building with permanent structure
Addition will replace temporary building with permanent structure

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of reports focusing on the major aspects of a $14.2 million referendum being put before Chisago Lakes School District voters Nov. 6.

Plain and simple, the portable building at Taylors Falls Elementary has outlived its usefulness as a quality educational facility.

In the months since the Chisago Lakes School Board first started discussing facilities priorities, the portable was almost forgotten.

As the Facilities Committee made recommendations on repairs, improvements and expansions, the Primary School in Chisago City was singled out because its classrooms and other spaces are at or over capacity already.

Initially, the board looked into including a Primary School addition in the Nov. 6 referendum. It soon became clear, however, that the idea simply wasn't feasible. Adding classroom space at the school would add greater space constraints in other areas, such as the cafeteria and gyms, and the district has very limited expansion options on the property.

The aging Taylors Falls Elementary portable building was then brought to the forefront.

The structure was brought to the district in 1995, when it was used as temporary classroom facilities at Chisago Lakes Middle School. When an addition was finished there, the portable moved to Taylors Falls Elementary, where it has been in use since 1999.

Because the structure sits behind the main school, it is entirely hidden from view. Even School Board members forget that the school is utilizing temporary space to educate its students.

"The portable is too well hidden, I honestly forget that it's there," Board Chair Mark Leigh said. "I think this is probably one of the most worthwhile of the projects we're looking at with this referendum," Leigh added. He added that this isn't a decision to expand classroom space, but simply replacing an outdated structure.

The portable is basically a trailer, Director of Business Services Heide Miller said. It was never meant to be a permanent solution to space issues and is showing significant signs of wear.

Currently, the portable houses one third grade class, two fourth grade classes and one fifth grade class. There is a fifth classroom, small storage area and restrooms.

Maintenance has been completed to ensure the health and safety of students and staff, but major repairs have been avoided; the district knows the building is at the end of its life span.

"We have issues with the roof leaking and siding that needs to be replaced, but we don't want to put anymore money into it," Miller said. "It wasn't meant to stay there forever."

Portable classroom teachers have learned to cope with the leaks in ceilings and wet walls after heavy rains or snows, sagging floors, the thick condensation on windows and fluctuating temperatures because of poor air circulation.

"We have true professionals out there who do their jobs in conditions that aren't the best," Taylors Falls Elementary Principal Joe Thimm said. "They focus on their responsibility of teaching the kids and I appreciate that."

Thimm said the custodial staff has done a tremendous job keeping the portable classrooms usable, but it is an increasingly tough battle.

"They are constantly fighting leaks in the roof and around the vents, and we've had to put new siding on because of deterioration," he said. "Portables are a quick fix, and are only intended to be used for a couple of years."

The outside of the building also poses challenges. Code dictates the building must be handicap-accessible, so a ramp is used at the main entrance. The ramp is the first place to frost in the fall, Thimm said, and is extremely slippery in inclement weather. Custodians spend a lot of time shoveling and spreading sand on the ramp to make it safe for use. Despite this, one teacher suffered a broken bone last year after a fall on the ramp.

Students and teachers are also separated from the rest of the school, and are required to travel in and out of the portables several times a day for specials (gym, computer, etc.), lunch and getting to and from the bus.

Thimm said it becomes a security and safety concern to have students in two separate buildings.

"When we have a lock down, we're locking down two buildings," Thimm said. "In inclement weather or when sirens go off, those children need to be brought into the main building because we can't have them out there."

The estimated $2.3 million addition would sit on the eastern half of school property, to the south of the portable building site.

It will include six classrooms, one of which will be used for Kids Club, the district's before- and after-school child care program.

The addition will also include a staff workroom, storage area and restrooms. It will be connected to the current building by a short hallway, extending the current that starts in the main lobby area.

Thimm said he gave input to architects from ATS&R on coming up with a floor plan. The addition is connected using a hallway so classrooms on the east side of the building will still have outside windows. The space in between will be maintained as green space.

A separate entrance into the new addition will allow easy, secure pick up and drop off for Kids Club. Currently, the main school building needs to remain open until 6 p.m. for picking up students at Kids Club. After it is constructed, the addition will be the only portion of the school building accessible after hours.

The plan will add more than 30 parking spaces at the school, as well as a safer drop-off space for bringing students to school.

Thimm said they would most likely move classrooms around to have all grade levels in the same area, making it easier for teachers to collaborate.

Plans will go quickly if the referendum passes Nov. 6; as soon as the frost is gone next spring, construction will begin. The goal would be to have students in the addition sometime late next fall.

Thimm said things would be a little cramped during construction, but it would be worth it. "That's a nice problem to have," he said. He plans to meet with the portable classroom teachers soon after the referendum vote to discuss those options. Most likely, some of the third, fourth and fifth grade classes will have to double up in existing rooms, or special education teachers may be doubled up in classrooms, Thimm said.

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