JEFFERSON — With an architectural firm and a construction firm hired to assess Jefferson school facility needs, it might seem that a building referendum is a foregone conclusion.
It’s true that Jefferson school planners are looking seriously at facilities options, especially when it comes to the stately but maintenance-heavy 80-year-old East Elementary School.
However, the district is turning not only to industry experts, but also to the community as planners determine how to address facility needs into the future.
With that goal in mind, a new citizen Facilities Advisory Committee came together last week for the first time.
The group, with around 30 members, includes parents, retirees, school staff members, and community members with widely varying backgrounds, some of whom have expertise and perspective to lend in terms of finance, construction, the skilled trades and other specialties.
At the group’s initial meeting last week — attended by both outgoing Superintendent Mark Rollefson and incoming Superintendent Charles Urness — advisory committee members got an overview of the facilities studies conducted so far, and went over what the committee’s role will be in looking at district needs and ultimately advising the school board.
The committee is not a decision-making body, but neither is it purely informational. Committee members will be important partners, working collaboratively with the school board.
The committee is tasked with serious review of district facilities, and this group’s recommendation will be a major factor — though not the only factor — in the school board’s eventual decision about whether to go to referendum, and, if so, what building plan to shoot for.
Rollefson noted that East Elementary School is a beautiful old building, a landmark in the area, but the cost to maintain that building in its current state is higher than any other district building by far.
So, looking at options for East will be a major focus for the new facilities advisory committee.
However, rather than just focusing on one school — at least in this initial phase — the district wanted to look at facilities needs overall to make sure nothing was left unexamined.
“We really should be studying the whole district, including the grounds,” Rollefson said.
For example, he said Jefferson High School, though renovated and expanded in 2012, still has some outdated portions, such as the 1977 tech ed wing, while Jefferson Middle School now is 20 years old and needs some updates.
At its first meeting, the group reviewed its role and what has been done in terms of facilities examination so far.
In March of 2020, the district hired a construction manager, Findorff, which later that year performed a facilities assessment to identify key maintenance needs in district buildings.
The district has engaged Findorff to survey the buildings with an eye toward future needs, such as enrollment trends and changes in how education is delivered.
In June of this year, the district hired an architectural firm, Eppstein Uhen Architects, to lend its expertise during this process.
Providing financial advice along the way will be the Robert W. Baird firm.
The formation of the facilities committee was next in this process. In the fall, the district plans to survey the school community and district residents about what they see as high priority facilities needs.
Among the next steps for the facilities committee, the group will tour all of the district’s buildings, starting with East, looking not only at the main public areas but also at the basements, roofs and mechanicals.
The group is being asked to look not only at physical facilities needs, but also to keep in mind 21st Century learning trends as well as modern safety and security recommendations, like the need for enclosed vestibules to provide more secure entrances at some schools.
While the group already has been formed, this summer will be a slow time for the facilities committee. In October, it will begin meeting in earnest, getting together around every two weeks.
Along the way, it will take into account information learned from the local school tours, tours of schools outside the district, and the results from the parent and community survey that is scheduled to go out this fall, along with a wide swath of additional information.
It is expected that the committee will have a final recommendation for the school board by next April.