Consultants’ report finds safety, size, and technology issues in Fort Smith School District preliminary findings

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 463 views 

Consulting firms Corgan and Childers Architects addressed their ongoing facilities assessment for Fort Smith Public Schools on Monday (Dec. 4) at a School Board work session.

For the assessment, the firms are evaluating the district’s 19 elementary schools, four junior highs, two high schools, and six district facilities. The district has 14,980 students, 1,900 staff, and 2.3 million square feet of facilities. The full scope covers the condition of existing facilities as well as their capacity.

Facility conditions include the areas of architecture, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and technology. Each area will be scored based on observations derived by obtaining input from district personnel, including administration, maintenance, and technology staff members. The final draft will provide detailed reports for each facility.

Topping the list of issues/opportunities, safety and security issues were found to exist at many campuses with classrooms that open to exteriors, entryways that require further securement, and campus fencing/access that “needs to be addressed.” The firms found the average original facility age (not including additions and renovations) to be “around 63 years” and the average conditions are “Fair” judged on a three-tiered scale of Poor, Fair, and Good.

“Facilities are well-maintained with strong ‘bones’ (walls, framing, construction) in most all conditions,” the report stated, adding that “older facilities show expected life-cycle issues” and that most schools “have adequate technology infrastructure in classrooms,” though some of it is “shoehorned” into older school buildings that do not provide adequate space or power to address the demands of modern technology.

In terms of “educational adequacy,” or how the district fares compared to state standards, the report notes that 40% of district classrooms are under state-mandated square footage sizes. The smallest schools (under 400 enrollment) lack “critical mass” of grade level sections to effectively team, with only 1-2 teachers per grade level. Ballman, Belle Pointe, Southside, and Northside have no elevator access rendering entire floors inaccessible for persons with disabilities. The district also has “minimal” space district-wide for flexible education space (i.e., collaboration, team teaching, or “Maker” spaces).

On capacity issues, the report found a large number of the district’s elementary (40%), junior high (46%), and high schools (70%) did not meet minimum state standards due to classrooms being under standard square footage.

While the term “millage increase” was not uttered at Monday’s meeting, the assessment will likely be considered in to a future vote, likely sometime in 2018. The firms plan to make final recommendations in January 2018. Their report will factor into the district’s master plan, due for submission to the state by Jan. 28, and in addition to opportunities, it will detail work that has already been done to campuses across the district so Board members will be able to compare, for example, Northside and Southside.

At a September meeting, the Board authorized administration to negotiate and award a contract to the international architectural firm Corgan and Fort Smith-based Childers for facilities assessments as part of the district’s strategic planning initiatives.

Corgan has nine offices nationwide and more than 60 years experience designing educational facilities with 5.3 million square feet of facility assessment experience over the last 12 months alone. Childers has been in business for 30 years and has past experience with the district. Among its current projects, it provided conceptual designs for the Phil White redevelopment on the 900 block of Garrison Avenue.

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