Newton School Board Takes a Serious Look at District Sustainability – Newton Daily News

Information shared with school board members during a lengthy Aug. 8 working session on the Newton School District Master Plan and Facilities Assessment suggests big changes may be needed in the years to come. Although no plan is in place, the school district is preparing ways to engage the public.

Newton Community School District teachers were briefed on the working session by Superintendent Tom Messinger. In his letter, he said the board was determining “the best way forward with a dedication to fiscal responsibility and a commitment to improving opportunities for our students.”

Messinger said district administration will continue to keep teachers informed of the process, discussions and outcomes over the coming weeks and months.

“There will be opportunities for you as staff to also be part of the process,” Messinger said in the letter. “No decision has been made and no predefined course of action has been determined, other than wanting to move forward with greater community engagement.”

The working session was moderated by Rachelle Hines of FRK Architects Engineers, who asked the managers how they wanted to inform and receive community feedback in this process. School board member Ray Whipple wanted feedback from those most affected: families and teachers.

If, for example, the district closed certain buildings, Whipple said he would want to hear from students and families who are near those schools and the teachers who reside there. Newton School Board Chair Robyn Friedman said she wants the community to understand “why”.

Friedman wants the community to help make those bigger decisions, whatever they are. The people of Newton need to be aware. School board member Travis Padget said real conversations about district issues would be key, but the board could also provide options to the community.

To counter that point, school board member Liz Hammerly asked what would happen if the community didn’t want to close buildings or take action. Padget said that at some point steps will have to be taken to not risk “disappearing as a district.” Hammerly also wanted maximum community involvement.

“At the end of the day, I think our goal is to bring in as many people as possible,” Friedman said. “We can’t control the fringe. We can make the best communication pieces we think we have. And we have this huge communication plan and the involvement of SIAC and so on.

Still, Hammerly worried that the community might get involved or feel misinformed. Friedman was convinced that as soon as news broke in the district about the future of certain school facilities, people would start paying attention to what was happening in their own backyards. Messinger said it would take a lot of work.

School board member Donna Cook recalled when the district considered shutting down Emerson Hough and received threats from attorneys taking action if anything happened to the building. Friedman said that’s why it’s so important to understand why the district and council are even engaging on this topic.

Based on information Hines received from school board members, she determined that the district wanted a community-led, community-focused outcome. Knowing what will be the determining factor in convincing the families of Newton to embark on a solution is going to be a challenge.

Although many school board members praised the commitment process for the new college and seemed interested in replicating it, Friedman disagreed with using this scenario as an example. The closest example, she said, is the closing of Emerson Hough or the consolidation of elementary schools.

“To be realistic, this is where we as a council have to be ready. That’s the conversation,” Friedman said. “Berg’s play was easy compared to those plays. The disruption wasn’t that we were building a new building, it was that we caused the disruption of all the elementary schools. »

Still, the school board seemed open to creating a task force of up to 35 community members to critically review the information and recommend solutions. Viewing sessions or town halls, Hines said, could also be ways to engage the Cardinal families. Online surveys may also collect feedback.

Cook cautioned against giving people any idea that the school board has a predefined agenda or is leading the community toward a certain solution. Friedman said it’s important for people to know that the school district has money it’s allowed to spend on construction without taxing people more.

“And we’re going to have to spend money on buildings no matter what, based on a 10-year, five-year plan,” Friedman said. “How can we spend this money most efficiently to benefit the community sooner? »


Why does the district want to modify its master plan and its equipment? Padget said part of the reason is the state government’s unwillingness to support its schools year after year after year. Accordingly, he suggested that there is a cumulative impact that is to come.

“And we’re looking at alternatives and options,” Padget said. Although no specific options were presented by school district engineers, the report Hines provided to council members shows that there are problems with the buildings. Specifically, the costs of updating old elementary school buildings.

By 2024, Hines said the Newton School District could experience a potential shortfall.

Over the next 10 years or so, FRK estimates the Newton School District will need to pay more than $67.6 million for facility upgrades. About $40 million is allocated to the high school, the largest building in the district. However, Hines said that number isn’t quite right because some projects can be arranged.

“There are things you might not be doing if you were doing one or the other,” she said.

Still, some building upgrades stood out above the rest. Of note are the staggering $10.5 million upgrades to Woodrow Wilson.

Especially since elementary schools like Aurora Heights and Emerson Hough only require $2.6 million and about $1.5 million, respectively. Berg Middle School, the newest building, has upgrades estimated at $2.4 million. Thomas Jefferson is on the high side with Woodrow Wilson at $5.5 million.

Meanwhile, WEST Academy has comparatively less expensive upgrades at $89,000, while Tech Activities and Facilities fetch around $4 million and $1 million in upgrades. Utility costs per square foot are also increasing. Woodrow Wilson has the highest at $1.62 per square foot.

Which basically means that there are efficiency issues in the primary school, and perhaps in other buildings as well. Berg Middle School has the lowest utility costs per square foot at $0.81 per square foot. FRK’s information also details a number of improvements.

Here’s a look at some of the costliest projects in each building:

Newton High School — $33 million to redesign classrooms to make better use of space and update IT, especially in older parts of the building; over $1 million to replace flooring; over $1.1 million to renovate the kitchen/cafeteria; and over $1.6 million for the installation of a fire protection system.

WEST Academy — $50,000 to renovate the dynamic living space, which will add a stove, refrigerator, extractor hood, dishwasher and washer/dryer; and $25,000 for another renovation to add a nurse’s station with shower.

Berg College — $2.43 million to add a possible addition to the west side of the building for a wrestling room and changing rooms for visitors; and $7,500 to provide insulation for noise control in the science room.

Aurora Heights Elementary School — $2.25 million to create an addition to the building so that the gymnasium and the cafeteria are separated from each other, which will facilitate the schedule; more than $261,000 to add a fire protection system; and $60,000 to renovate the tech room into another space.

Emerson Hough Elementary School —more than $362,000 to install a fire protection system; $350,000 to renovate student washrooms; over $194,000 to replace the roof; over $181,000 to replace the fire alarm panel; and $150,000 to replace the boiler.

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School — $3.75 million to renovate the interior; more than $372,000 to modernize the interior courtyard; more than $372,000 replace the roof; over $349,000 to install a fire protection system; $250,000 to replace the chiller; and $230,000 to replace the existing steam boiler and associated piping.

Woodrow Wilson Elementary School — $6.5 million to redevelop, replace or demolish the original second-floor building; $2.25 million to create a new gymnasium and separate the cafeteria from the gymnasium; $300,000 for AEA; $300,000 for a speech addition; and $300,000 to replace the boiler system.

Activities Facilities — $2.5 million to create a new baseball field near the softball field; $1.15 million to create a multipurpose building at the secondary school; and $402,500 to remove existing lighting, including towers, and replace with LEDs.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 560 or

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