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Majority of Miller Middle School survey participants want a new building

T-R PHOTO BY LANA BRADSTREAM Miller Middle School is in need of repairs, renovation or replacement, as evidenced by this basement photo. A survey was sent to parents and staff personnel asking for their thoughts on the best way for the Marshalltown Community School District to move forward in providing education to middle school students.

Most of the participants who answered a survey regarding the future of Miller Middle School favor building a new facility.

The Marshalltown Community School District (MCSD) sent the survey out last week. Superintendent Theron Schutte said the Thought Exchange survey was for a targeted group of 11,000 people — parents, district employees and the Miller Middle School Task Force. There were 443 anonymous participants and 352 who submitted their thoughts regarding the three possibilities.

The three Miller Middle School options are:

• Fresh Start, which would be building a new facility at a new site;

• Renovate and Expand, which would provide upgrades and expansions to the current facility and;

• Fix What We Have, which provides necessary repairs to the facility without any alteration.

In a press release issued on Thursday, the district reported that 62 percent of the participants want a Fresh Start; 35 percent favored Renovate and Expand and; 15 percent selected Fix What We Have.

“I think the real takeaway is that the vast majority of people believe that something significant needs to be done,” Schutte said. “I don’t know that it was a strong enough one versus the other to feel confident building a new building on a new site is the direction to go. There is a strong contingent which feels trying to do something to rebuild Miller and take advantage of what is worth saving.”

Of the responses, he said the ones that received the most participant activity were for a Fresh Start. There were also strong sentiments for historical preservation, Schutte said. There were also questions if a new facility is built, what would happen with the current school.

“Would it be razed and developed into something else? There are portions of the building from the early 2000s,” he said. “There are sentiments of losing some of the architectural features and uniqueness of the facility which would be the auditorium.”

However, Schutte stressed the overall feeling that something significant must be done, that a bandage approach is not sufficient. He said he is not sure the district will make a decision in time to get on the November ballot for a bond referendum.

“The hopes are we would be in a position to do that, but whether we can pull that off or not, I don’t know,” Schutte said. “It needs to be the right decision. I don’t want to put something on the ballot just to test the waters. I want to put something on the ballot that has a legitimate shot of accomplishing what we want to accomplish with improved facilities and (that) we can make a strong case for, that the community will accept.”

Architects have created different options of what rebuilding the middle school could look like, and Schutte said it is still up in the air whether they have landed on the right one yet. He said at least a year’s worth of planning will be necessary, no matter what direction is ultimately chosen.

Building a new facility is possible, Schutte said. However, that would require the district obtaining land it does not currently own.

Going through the process of what to do with Miller made district officials aware of the lack of land owned by the district. As a result, the MCSD board approved a July 15 public hearing for a possible land exchange with the city of Marshalltown. The district is proposing an exchange of property at Bicentennial Park and the lease to Arnold’s Park land for eight city-owned acres adjacent to seven acres the district owns between 6th and 12th streets near the end of Southridge Road. The exchange would provide MCSD with 15 acres, the minimum amount of land necessary for an elementary school.

“Maybe back in the 70s or whenever that land was acquired, it was considered enough space,” Schutte said. “I’m sure that’s why those areas of land were obtained by the school was for future growth and development, but by today’s standards, by national standards, we don’t have enough land to do even an elementary school right now.”

While the potential land would be enough for an elementary school, Schutte said a middle school would require at least 28 to 30 acres to account for the number of students, athletic facilities and parking.

It is not the first time the district has tried to swap land with the city of Marshalltown, he said.

Schutte was concerned with the timing of the potential exchange, that community residents would jump to the conclusion it was for a new middle school.

“Who knows, maybe it’s the beginning of trying to acquire the land we would need for a middle school,” he said. “We need that land whether it be there or elsewhere even to do an elementary school down the road.”

Schutte is also thinking ahead to possible future elementary schools and added that the district does not have the land for new buildings for those.

“We need to figure out what we’re going to do there,” he said.

District officials are going to figure out the best way to move forward and meet with the architects and construction manager working on the project. Schutte said they will recalibrate whatever is decided, but added that there are a lot of moving pieces.

“I think it’s fair to share (that) we thought we’d know by now which direction to go, but I don’t think we do,” Schutte said. “There has been no preconceived notion of the right thing to do, and we’re trying to get a good feel for that.”

Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 ext. 210 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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