Fort Smith School Board cites secure entry and access as top facility concerns

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 2,064 views 

Fort Smith School Board members were in agreement access controls and secure entry would be top priorities for any future facility improvements following the facilities assessment presentation from consulting firms Corgan and Childers Architects.

The results were presented at a Monday (Jan. 8) work session and also detailed completion of the LED lighting replacement program, which would include exterior site and parking lot lighting enhancements for all of the district’s 19 elementary schools, four junior highs, two high schools, and six district facilities. Corgan and Childers recommended completion of boiler replacements for the entire district as well and development and implementation of a facility use efficiency program and district-wide energy usage study.

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.” Overall the schools averaged a “Fair” facility assessment rating (between 65%-79%) judged on a three-tiered scale of Poor, Fair, and Good.

Among the lowlights, Northside and Southside High Schools — built in 1927 and 1963, respectively — ranked “Poor” for educational adequacy. Educational adequacy asks questions about a facility such as, does it adequately support desired educational programs; does the individual learning environment support students and teachers in achieving their goals; are spaces organized to allow for appropriate collaboration and joint use; are light levels causing eye-strain by being either too dim or too bright; and is the environment comfortable and air clean? Northside scored a 56% in the EA category and 64% overall while Southside fared worse at 50% EA and 59.8% overall.

Further on educational adequacy, 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).

The junior highs fared slightly better than the two high schools on overall scores with Kimmons topping out at 82.6% overall; Chaffin at 69.2%; Ramsey at 65.4%; and Darby at 58.6%.

For the elementary schools, the bottom slots were taken by Beard (52.4% overall); Ballman (53.2%); and Trusty (56.6%) while Carnall (88.6%); Howard (86.2%); Sutton (84%); Spradling (81.8%); Fairview (81.2%); and Morrison (80.8%) scored highest.

The district has 14,980 students, 1,900 staff, and 2.3 million square feet of facilities. The full scope of the study covered the condition of existing facilities and their capacities as well.

“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.

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.

The assessment, available in a redacted form to shield district security flaws, will likely be considered as the Board weighs plans for a possible future millage vote, likely sometime in 2018. (Link here for a PDF of the assessment.) Monday’s report will factor into the district’s master plan, due for submission to the state by Jan. 28. 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 projects, it provided conceptual designs for the Phil White redevelopment on the 900 block of Garrison Avenue in downtown Fort Smith.

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