DEWITT — What to do at Ekstrand Elementary School as it approaches a level of 650 students is a question that has plagued the Central Community School District ever since Welton Elementary School was closed two years ago.

The Central board mulled over the options in a special meeting this week though no decision was made and all possible avenues to a solution for the overcrowding remain open. A letter from the Ekstrand teachers reaffirmed their belief that the fifth-graders should remain at the site even if in “temporary” modular classrooms. Board member Dennis Campbell, after citing a 5 percent declining enrollment trend in both Clinton County and the Central District, offered four directions open to the board. The first option is to leave Ekstrand as is, which would make the temporary modulars a long-term solution, something the board did not want to do.

The second option is to construct another bricks-and-mortar addition at Ekstrand. Campbell called this the second most difficult-to-accomplish solution because of the land constraint of six acres surrounded by housing. Twenty acres is the state recommended amount for elementary schools.

The district could pursue building a new elementary, but, Campbell said, this would be the most difficult solution and the most distant, as far away as 2012.

The only other solution is moving students from the site and not necessarily the fifth grade, he said. This would be the most economical, fiscally responsible and educationally responsible choice, but the board did not know how to achieve this, he added.

Campbell also noted that another modular at a cost of $100,000 would be needed at Ekstrand, although the board would rather spend that money on a long-term solution.

A fifth viable option was a cooperative agreement or sharing with another school district. The board agreed to keep all options out there with rough costs and to continue moving forward on the five-year facilities plan.

Board member Dona Bark, who conducted the meeting in the absence of board president Kurt Rickard, said there was a plan for the high school and the middle school and the elementary was doing OK. The goal was to continue to look at and plan and assess for the elementary.

In a presentation/discussion with the STAR (Saber Team for Arts and Recreation) committee, the board considered funding options for a new gymnasium/fine arts building. The benefits of the facility would be to enhance education, athletics and fine arts. The proposal is for a 1,800-seat competition gym complex and 800-seat concert/theatrical auditorium at a cost of $12 million.

The STAR committee said it is currently working with a professional consulting firm to assess the district’s potential for fund-raising. Representative Steve Thayer asked the board to keep STAR’s efforts in mind in the district’s facilities planning. He targeted the one cent sales tax vote coming up in 2008 and asked for no bond issues before that time.

In 2010-2011, all of the district’s debt will be paid off and its bonding capacity will be at its highest level, about $21 million. Then the district could help pay for the STAR facility after private fund-raising is completed, Thayer said. In fact, if a significant amount is raised, it could heighten enthusiasm for a bond issue, he added.

Board member Jim Irwin said that the board’s goal was to get the one cent sales tax passed again and that any facilities’ decisions made now were completely unfunded. He told the committee to continue to move forward and that it was doing an excellent job.

The board approved plans for phase 2A construction at the high school. This will be a new cafeteria, kitchen remodeling and alternate school addition at a cost of $1.8 million.

The present cafeteria will operate until May 1, architect Steve Zbylicki said, and the project will conclude in August 2008. Brand new asphalt will be installed up to the corner of the building. As much as possible will be done before winter sets in, he noted.

Superintendent Carol Hansen was directed to bring an estimate of the amount of time needed to supervise the project. Buildings and grounds director Keith Walker has performed that duty without additional pay on the previous construction. Zbylicki did not recommend hiring an outside person.

The board also approved a change order of $5,952 for the recent addition of classrooms, fitness center and music room. That brought the project cost to $2,631,075.

In personnel changes, the board amended the contract of high school art teacher Sue Nordstrom to $39,584; accepted the resignation of Tammy Cousins as a regular school bus route driver; hired Gary Mickelson as a regular driver and Paul Keitel, Mel Boyer, Mary Seymour, Steve Walswick, Sharon Rathjen, Cheryle Johnson, and Cousins as substitute bus drivers; and approved increased teacher associate hours for Sherry McAleer and Janelle Schnoor.

The second reading of the new anti-bullying/anti-harassment policy was approved.

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