Staff from ICS Consulting, Inc. gave the Park Rapids School Board a report Monday about the “educational adequacy” of the school district’s teaching spaces.
The firm was hired last spring to study how changes to school facilities could help the district carry out its strategic plan.
Educational consultant Glenn Chiodo and project development specialist Jason Splett explained that they evaluated classroom sizes, types and configurations as well as student and staff lounges, gyms, auditoriums, fields, playgrounds, parking and drop-off areas, technology, lockers, washrooms and more.
They assigned green, yellow or red color codes depending on whether each area meets most Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) analysis criteria, meets some of the criteria but not others, or does not meet the criteria, and whether or not school staff perceive the area as a significant need, respectively.
Chiodo stressed that the MDE criteria are guidelines, not mandates. He said the guidelines were established in 2004 – a year after Century School was completed – and they were updated about a year ago.
At Century Elementary School, areas designated as red or yellow included:
Security – red, due to the distance from the secure-entry vestibule to the office, where visitors should sign in.
Staff lounge – yellow, because of a lack of small-group breakout areas.
Student breakout areas – red, because additional classrooms have closed off previously open areas at the ends of the pods.
Playground equipment – yellow, available in limited amounts and not handicap accessible.
Parent pick-up and drop-off area – red, due to traffic congestion.
Technology – yellow, with some staff concerned about a need for upgrades and having to use carts.
Century Elementary staff most frequently cited the lack of fountains, storage and bookshelves, electrical outlets and flexible seating options as areas needing improvement. They expressed the most satisfaction with their spaces’ size and natural light.
Asked what they consider their school’s “big five” facility needs, elementary staff voted for special education space, improved security, improved drop-off and pick-up area, more grade level classroom space and increased common space, breakout space or work area.
Century Middle School areas shaded in red or yellow were:
Security – red, with an even longer walk from the visitors’ entrance to the office.
Main office – yellow, because the nurse’s office is located in the elementary wing.
Student breakout areas – red, due to a grade-level pod being enclosed with classrooms. To have large group discussion, students now have to walk to the cafeteria.
Physical education – red, because the gym is undersized, per MDE guidelines, and there isn’t enough space for all the groups needing to use it.
Playground equipment – yellow, because it is not handicap accessible. Also, Chiodo said, “There’s nothing to stop anybody to run all the way over to the West 40 and have a cup of coffee.”
Parking and pick-up/drop-off – red, Chiodo said, because “you’ve just doubled your problem when you’re down at the other end, coming through the one” entrance. He reported hearing suggestions about reconfiguring the bus drop-off to allow more use of the entrance at the middle school end of the Century building.
Technology – yellow, again because of a need for upgrades and frustrations, Chiodo said, with “things not working, and not being able to have things available at different times, having to work off a cart but you can’t find the cart,” etc.
Middle school staff most often voiced dissatisfaction with seating options, windows that do not open, low-quality smart boards and the lack of storage, but again praised their classroom sizes and natural light.
The “big five” facility needs, according to middle school staff, are a community center, improved parking, updated technology, a safer entrance and more playground equipment.
Park Rapids Area High School received red or yellow marks for:
Classroom size – red, because “all of their core rooms are undersized,” said Chiodo, referring to English, math and social studies classrooms. Also, most of them have no natural light, and few have storage or counter space.
Food service areas – yellow, because of the distance from the kitchen to the cafeteria.
Security – red, because of the distance from the public entrance to the office.
Main office – yellow, due to some spaces being tighter than they should be.
Science labs – red, because they are undersized, lack natural light and flexible seating.
Art rooms – yellow, due to a lack of separation between work areas. “Everything that’s done in there spills over into other groups,” said Chiodo.
Band and choir rooms – red, also undersized.
Staff lounge area – red, because the space is undersized, lacks handicap accessible restrooms and has no small-group meeting space nearby.
Student common areas – yellow, due to the inadequate commons and a lack of breakout areas for collaborative projects and large- or small-group instruction.
Phy ed – red, due to the gym being undersized per MDE guidelines and the location of locker rooms.
Technology – yellow, with staff voicing concerns about devices not working and a need for updates.
Special education – yellow, with some undersized rooms.
Career and technical education – yellow, with no room for the agriculture program.
Washrooms – red, not handicap accessible.
High school staff most often named the lack of natural light, electrical outlets and storage, a need for more flexible seating options and the size of classrooms as areas needing change. They also cited sufficient space as their top area of satisfaction.
The “big five” needs according to high school staff were improved washrooms, security, ventilation systems and classroom space for high school and Alternative Learning Center (ALC) students.
An evaluation of the early childhood facility gave red marks to classroom size, security, the main office, staff lounge and outdoor play space, and yellow marks to the parking and drop-off area and special education facilities.
Early childhood staff were unanimous in identifying classroom size, security, office, special education and breakout areas as their “big five” needs.
Though there are no MDE guidelines for ALC facilities, Chiodo said they do not meet the program’s needs due to their location (close to early childhood and not near an entrance), insufficient space for classroom instruction and hands-on activities, and inadequate ventilation systems.
Chiodo stressed that the report is not a criticism of the instruction provided at the school, but only of how well the facilities support it. As the district’s former superintendent, he said, “It was not a surprise to me why space is an issue, because you’ve done such a great job of adding the various programs that kids need to have… (and) of course you had to take space up to do that.”
Splett reported about a study by the firm Applied Insights of the district’s demographic trends.
First, he noted that during the last 10 years, the district’s enrollment increased 6 percent, mainly in grades K-6, while the population of school-age children in the district rose more than 3 percent.
Meanwhile, Splett noted that the non-resident student population (attending through open enrollment) increased from 8 to 11 percent, but the district continues to lose more students to neighboring districts than it gains through open enrollment. “But that’s softening here, as of recent,” he said.
He said the area’s economy is growing, and the population is also growing faster than expected. Based on conservative projections of the birth rate and promotion of lower-grade students who have larger classes, Splett said they expect enrollment to increase by 10 percent during the next 10 years – from a current K-12 total of 1,587 to approximately 1,748 students.
Building utilization study
Splett tied this demographic information into a report about how the schools are utilizing their space, and whether there is enough education space for the future.
Based on desired class sizes of 18-20 kindergartners, 20-24 first through fourth grade students and 25-30 fifth grade through seniors per classroom, the study found that Century Elementary is approaching its classroom capacity limit and does not have space for breakout areas, small-groups, flex space to accommodate “bubble grades” or special, hands-on programs.
“You’re trending towards needing some additional space,” said Splett.
The middle school and high school, he said, have some underutilized space that could be repurposed to accommodate more students.
City hall listening session
Splett and ICS educational consultant Lynn Dyer held their 17th and last community listening session during a city council workshop Tuesday at Park Rapids City Hall.
Council members and city staff responded to the same questions previously asked at two open community listening sessions in Park Rapids and in Osage, and workshops with school staff, students and other community groups.
Because several attendees had attended previous listening sessions, only seven city personnel participated in the prioritization exercise regarding the school district’s facility needs.
Their recommendations were security improvements at both Century School and the high school, seven votes; a new high school and expanded technical education facilities, five votes each; improved pick-up and drop-off area at Century School, four votes; new indoor and outdoor sports facilities and an updated high school auditorium, three votes each; and updated high school choir and band rooms, one vote.