by Madison White Franks
KILMARNOCK—School officials, committee members, teachers, project architects and the public exchanged ideas Thursday during the first of three input gathering sessions on the future needs of Lancaster schools.
The objective was to talk about the options of renovating existing facilities, building new facilities, or a combination of both, said superintendent Steve Parker.
“This is imperative because our kids deserve the best and our community needs the best,” said Parker. “To thrive as a community, we have to have economic development. The schools are an engine for economic development.”
“You have one of the most prized assets that is going to be important in the future and that is the pristine, beautiful piece of nature here surrounded by an abundance of water and a beautiful place, so it’s up to you how you want that to evolve and become the future of Lancaster County,” said Bob Moje of VMDO Architects.
The goal is to have a concrete plan by the end of January or the beginning of February for a proposal on where the community wants to go with the county’s school system, said Moje.
“It’s a paradigm shift. Time is the variable and education is the constant,” said high school Spanish teacher Liz Hood.
The discussion will continue at 6:30 p.m. tonight, December 8, and January 5, at the LCPS Annex (old Lancaster Community Library), 235 School Street, Kilmarnock.
VMDO officials say they want the community to describe what kind of county it wants, what kind of schools it wants and where it wants to go in terms of economic development.
The educational vision is to have personalized learning and project-based learning, authentic assessment for each student, and to allow each student to learn how to collaborate and be creative.
The school system should give students a voice and choice, in a space in place, which means educational facilities need to foster and facilitate the educational program, to maximize each student’s potential achievement, said Moje.
The challenges in the Lancaster school system are teacher recruitment and retention, indoor environmental quality, bus routes and times, two schools that are not connected to municipal water and sewer, existing buildings that are not adaptable to new technologies and schools that have inefficient mechanical systems with no air conditioning in some spaces, he said.
Goals and opportunities for the future of the school system would have the schools serve as economic development catalysts, to allow for project-based learning with the building and site as a teaching tool, better teacher recruitment and retention, and schools that serve as community centers for after-hour access and hi-speed internet, he said. Other goals would be to include more multi-purpose spaces with sustainable technologies, such as net-zero energy to save on utility costs to directly benefit education.
“The focus should be on how do we impact the students and the people in the building the most, how do we provide the maximum amount of educational opportunities and how do we provide the best longtime benefit to the schools,” said Moje.
The choice the community has to make is whether or not to renovate existing schools on existing sites, build new schools or a combined strategy of renovating some and building new.
If the school system and community choose to renovate the primary school, it would be recommended to expand the current school from kindergarten through grade 5, create a new identity and public face, add and upgrade some major program components such as a new gym, a renovated cafeteria and assembly space and renovate and update the media center, said Bryce Powell of VMDO Architects.
“This would be with full renovations, but this does not deal with the well water and septic issue,” said Powell.
With the renovation option, the middle school would change to grades 6 through 8, create a new identity and public face, relocate administration to create a more secure entry, relocate the media center, expand the auditorium lobby to connect to the courtyard and possible auditorium expansion.
A full renovation of the remaining school would still be required, said Powell.
Also with the renovation option, the high school could add an auditorium, auxiliary gym and classrooms, relocate administration to the front, renovate and update the media center and upgrade the football stadium.
The high school would still need a full renovation, he said.
If the community and school system choose to build new schools, the best site locations for this would be where the middle school is now and the property behind it, or property on Harris Road across from the YMCA, said Jimmie Carter, who chairs the facilities committee.
VMDO showed a number of options on both of these properties, but the middle school site would allow for all three schools to be located on the same campus, with possible accessibility to James B. Jones Memorial Highway.
Liz Hood questioned whether or not the municipality is ready for the potential impact if all the schools were built in Kilmarnock.
“Yes, but we will have to investigate,” said zoning administrator Marshall Sebra.
VMDO also showed an option for the Harris Road site with two schools on the property, the middle and high schools. With this option, it was suggested the current high school be renovated to become the primary school.
Margaret Socey said she likes all schools together and most people attending the meeting liked the concept of all schools being on the same campus.