Board poised to close Manilla school
Revised plan would put middle- and high-school students together in Manning
February 20, 2014
IKM-Manning school board members were adamant Wednesday night - the Manilla building must be closed.
"We came to this process knowing that we were going to have to close a building," said board member Amy Ferneding. "We're doing this to eliminate those costs and to cut those costs, and I don't think that spending that money - even if it is short term - that we can afford to do those things for the Manilla building to keep it open."
The board has been debating the closure of one of the district's three buildings for nearly a year as a way to cut costs. The district currently has empty space in all three buildings, faces continued declining enrollment and further cuts in state funding.
The discussion at Wednesday's school board meeting followed last week's recommendation from consultants to close the Manilla building and convert the Irwin building into a junior high school. Iowa Schoolhouse Construction and Planning Services representatives Duane Van Hemert and Sam Harding said this plan would cost the district about $280,000 up front to renovate science and consumer science classrooms at Irwin, but would save the district nearly $1 million in maintenance costs at Manilla and roughly $4 million in reduced utilities and staff over the next decade.
The meeting opened with public comment on the consultants' recommendation, in which Manilla residents again voiced skepticism at the high cost estimates for the building.
Later in the meeting, superintendent Tom Ward presented a "hybrid" scenario developed by the administrators to move the middle school students to the high school in Manning, leaving Irwin as a primary school. The scenario closely resembles one of the original five scenarios presented by Van Hemert and Harding at a January board work session, but contains one key difference that eliminates most immediate renovation costs.
Though the board debated both options, it will not vote until its next meeting March 6 at 7 p.m. in the Manning high school auditorium.
Manilla Mayor Pat Wuestewald and Manilla utilities supervisor Jeff Blum challenged the consultants' $975,000 cost projection for the Manilla building, with Wuestewald presenting "scenario D" - to close the Irwin building instead, and move all the Manilla classrooms to the first two floors, closing the third floor.
"We kept getting hit in the face like (the $975,000 figure) was gospel, and we don't think it is," Wuestwald said.
Blum sought to lay out figures on "school versus school" utility costs. According to Blum, the Manning building is 37 percent larger than Manilla in square-footage, while the Irwin building is 40 percent smaller than the Manilla building. Last year, his figures showed utility costs amounting to $190,254 in Manning, $48,394 in Manilla and $45,404 in Irwin. He cited 34 percent higher water costs, 152 percent higher sewer costs and 56 percent higher electrical costs in Irwin than in Manilla as the reason the utility costs were so close despite the large disparity in the physical size of the buildings.
Blum said the only maintenance costs at the Manilla building would be about $175,000 for a new roof, $60,000 to finish installing air conditioning on the second floor of the building, and roughly $12,000 to replace the registers for the heating system - a "far cry short" of the consultants' suggested figure of $975,000.
"None of these have to be done immediately. We're getting by with what we have now," said Blum. "Those costs of $975,000 are not realistic unless you are planning on keeping that school open for years and years" - an illusion no one is holding onto, he added, voicing the belief that declining enrollment will eventually leave the entire district consolidated in Manning.
In the meantime, according to Wuestwald, the transportation costs are not "negligible" as the consultants said. If the Manilla building is closed, three buses will be shuttled to Irwin each day, but if the Irwin building is closed, only one bus will need to travel back and forth - representing significant savings over 10 years, he said.
Keeping Manilla as a middle school will also give the district two usable gyms, compared with Irwin's one, Wuestwald added, remarking that Irwin did not have enough room for seventh- and eighth-grade boys and girls teams to practice at the same time when he coached, and does not have enough room now. The locker rooms have also 'deteriorated," he said, describing the "crumbling" plaster-over-chicken-wire walls.
Wuestwald said he is also "hearing talk" of Manilla parents considering open-enrollment out of the IKM-Manning District and into Denison, Carroll or ArWeVa, and urged board members not to believe the individuals wouldn't "follow through."
State Sen. Dan Muhlbauer, D-Manilla, also addressed the board at Wednesday's meeting. He credited the consultants for their "cold, hard facts," but fell back on the "great school pride" of each community.
"I truly want to see all the schools stay open as long as possible," he said, suggesting the board close portions of all three buildings to keep all open as long as possible.
"I wish the state could do more so we wouldn't have community fighting community over which school is better," he commented.
The superintendent and administrators recommended their own revised scenario to the board - to move the fifth through eighth grades from their current location in Manilla to Manning; move the kindergarten classes from Manning to Irwin, leaving first and second grades at Irwin and making it a primary school; and to leave the third and fourth grades at Manning.
This scenario differs slightly from one of the original five presented by Van Hemert and Harding - to make Irwin an elementary school and Manning a combined middle and high school. In the consultants' option, classrooms would need to be added at Irwin to accommodate all of the elementary classes. By leaving the fourth and fifth grades at Manning, those additions wouldn't be needed.
Both Manning and Irwin would also retain a preschool, a commitment made to the communities at implementation said board member Eric Ramsey. The Manilla gym would be left open for junior high practices, and the central office could remain at Manilla to provide supervision of students before and after school.
According to Ward, the consolidation of junior high and high school teachers would allow 540 more hours for instruction because three teachers would not need to travel, increasing potential class offerings for those students. This scenario would also save the immediate $280,000 cost that would be required to remodel Irwin science and consumer science labs and move miscellaneous equipment.
Ferneding said the first step was to determine which building to close before deciding how to configure the remaining two, citing the cost of replacing the Manilla roof as an immediate cost if that building stayed open.
"We can sit here at a stalemate and drag on, drag on, but we've been told we need to get to two buildings," agreed board member Dave Heller.
Even if the Manilla costs are not accurate, the costs of keeping the Irwin and Manning buildings open for the next 10 years remains minimal, he said.
Building principals Brian Wall, Sharon Whitson and Wendy Hammrich all voiced support for a combined middle and high school, saying it would provide greater opportunities for staff and student collaboration, a key piece of education. Only two educators, the elementary music and art teachers, would be required to travel. Students would transition buildings only once, between second and third grades.
Rather than losing an administrative position, the primary school principal would be a part-time position, added Ward.
Ferneding, Ramsey and fellow board member Scott Hodne said that latter scenario would address concerns they have received about splitting the seventh and eighth grade to be on their own.
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