Fr. O'Toole posted on November 14, 2013 11:13
The Steier Group has completed its feasibility study for the potential expansion of and capital improvements to St. Margaret of Scotland School. Their data continues to be evaluated by the members of the Parish Council, the School Board and the Finance Committee. We hope to communicate a decision soon to everyone in the parish and school communities.
In the meantime, I would like to address some of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) that surfaced in the course of the Steier Group’s inventory. Many of you expressed a desire to know more clearly how the parish leadership came to the proposals that were made, certainty that all options have been explored, and clarity on a few specifics. Here and in the future I will provide answers to these FAQs.
1. How are we certain that the school population will continue to grow in the next few years? Is this projected growth based on only on the number of baptisms at church?
In the summer of 2011 a skilled demographer from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who assists parishes in pastoral planning, studied both the baptismal and church registration trends of St. Margaret for the last few years. In addition to this he also analyzed data from the 2010 US Census, focusing on the population trends in the neighborhoods that constitute our parish. As well as calculating attrition rates (average loss of students), his projections for each school year since has been very accurate. By the fall of 2017 we could be above 465 students. (Present enrollment: 391) So, when asked how certain we are that the school population will continue to grow, the answer is very certain.
2. Rather than constructing a new building, did you consider using an existing structure for more classrooms?
Absolutely. The Executive Board for School Accommodation, the group which has been working for the past two years on this issue, looked at many existing structures to learn if any could be re-purposed to accommodate the growth at our school. We toured these facilities and inventoried their possibilities. Each site considered had significant limitations:
The former City Garden at Tyler Place Presbyterian on Spring Avenue – Renovating to our needs would have required a large investment by us for space that was for lease.
Sherman Elementary – Built in 1898, this school is ten years older than our own. The City’s asking price for the property is over $1 million. It has the same number of classrooms we already have and the cost of renovation would be exorbitant.
The closed St. Elizabeth Academy – Technically this property lies in another parish’s boundaries where a Catholic elementary school already exists. Also, the facility is more building than we require. Even partial use may later present problems with other developers of the property.
Tower Grove Baptist on Magnolia Avenue – Classroom space and facilities here were promising, but the prospect of having our program operating alongside an existing school posed conflicts.
3949 Castleman Avenue – This residence directly opposite the school and adjacent to our playground was most advantageous, but it was determined that the physical layout of the building could not be configured to enough classroom space. It would have been nice to have the real estate to increase the footprint of our property, but the asking price was too high.
2281 South 39th Street at Shenandoah – This former location of Covenant House has been developed for office and residential space. Again, insufficient square footage for classrooms and no green space for playground use.
3. Are there any other reasons using existing property make this option less attractive?
There is a strong preference not to break up the St. Margaret student community into two campuses. This would take away the quality relationships that are built between younger and older students. School parents also expressed a preference not to have two drop-offs and pick-ups each day for their children.
Also, there are significant expenses involved with financing two locations. For instance, the duplication of staff, like an administrator or secretary at each building, would increase personnel cost. And if a two story building were renovated, present safety codes for new use of old buildings would require us to install an elevator, a cost of at least $150,000 for that alone.
4. Are the capital improvements to the existing school buildings necessary?
The prospectus named three projects in need of attention that also require capital funds: replacement of the 1960’s era boilers, tuckpointing and resurfacing of the playground. Our Physical Plant Committee identified these as improvements that would benefit long-term performance of our facilities. At present the boilers are functioning sufficiently. They can be maintained for a few more years, but a more energy-efficient system would save us money.
Tuckpointing will resolve the recurring interior problems of walls peeling and blistering which requires repeated patching and repainting. (Recent replacement of the roofs, repairs to the downspouts and caulking around the windows has helped stave this problem to the interior.) The playground was not originally designed to be used as a parking lot. The weight of cars has compromised the composition of the surface.
The bottom line: whether or not these projects are handled by a capital campaign, they need to be addressed and their cost will increase each year they are deferred.
5. If now is the time to finance capital improvements to our campus, why not air condition the buildings as part of the project?
Air conditioning is included in the cost of the proposed new school construction. The other two school buildings are challenging to air condition because of the need for new electrical lines into the building to support a system, the extensive duct work necessary, and the cost of the condenser/AC units. Ongoing utility bills would also have to be factored in to the school budget. Previous capital campaigns have not pursued air conditioning for the school buildings because of its prohibitive cost. We have, however, made a commitment to investigate the feasibility of air conditioning some zones of the school to offer relief for oppressively hot school days. This may be an option we can afford in the future.
6. In the proposal for new construction, the classrooms were designated for middle school grades. Why not make this an early childhood center (for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten)?
Both options were explored and studied for the practical and pedagogical advantages they each offered. The smaller children would certainly require less overall space; however, as a crowd they are not as mobile. Traveling the distance across the playground to the existing school buildings to reach the cafeteria and assemble for other events would require added time. Moreover, keeping these little ones close to the nest was preferred. A distinct space for older students and their particular needs (like a science lab and lockers) was thought to be more appropriate. As adolescents it would provide them a unique place to call their own, while keeping them integrated with the overall campus.
Floor plans for both options were drawn. Earlier this year input was sought from members of the Parish Council and the School Board. The consensus was to propose a new facility for middle school students.
FAQs related to the proposed school expansion and capital improvements will continue in the near future.