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Facility study highlights deficiencies in schools

A referendum may be on the horizon for the Superior school district following the results of its latest facilities study.

Engineering and architectural firm LHB presented its preliminary recommendations to the Superior School Board on Tuesday after a nearly yearlong study of the district’s facilities.

The firm evaluated Superior’s eight schools, school forest buildings and administration building for energy efficiency, physical condition and educational adequacy.

The majority of the buildings received passing marks, but Superior High School and Cooper Elementary School were singled out for improvements.

For Cooper, LHB is recommending a brand new facility.

The new school would cost between $16.5 and $16.6 million, with an additional $500,000 for demolition of the existing building.

“When we talk about the level of work that needs to be done to this facility to bring it up to speed, it definitely reaches the tipping point of where a new facility should be done,” said Kevin Holm, an LHB architect and manager. “This building was built in the mid- to late-60s, and although we’d like to think a building would last longer than that, the changes in education and the way this building was designed originally just doesn’t fit the current context of how to deliver education.”

Early concept drawings from LHB imagine the new school as a two-story building north of the existing facility, closer to North 17th Street.

Students would continue attending classes at the current building while work is under way.

Holm said the new building would have a smaller foundation footprint but could accommodate up to 600 students. Cooper’s enrollment is about 400 students.

LHB also recommended a major overhaul for Superior High School. The building requires updates to its lighting, heating, ventilation and building automation system. Holm also said the school is the largest building he’s ever visited that does not have a fire suppression system.

“It does not have a sprinkler system, and quite frankly, it needs one,” Holm said.

In terms of classroom size, the high school falls short of recommended levels.

All of the classrooms in the circle are undersized, Holm said. The band rehearsal room was designed for 30 students but currently holds up to 100, and the orchestra practices in a lobby.

To address the issues, LHB outlined three options. The first calls for the demolition of the current school and construction of a brand new facility. The new school would be built east of the existing structure.

The second option preserves much of the current facility but replaces the circle with a new addition.

“What this concept does is it acknowledges the fact that you have some great, large-scale function spaces that would be very expensive to recreate and that have a lower concentration of systems — mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems — that would have to be upgraded, modified and maintained,” Holm said.

The plan leaves in place the pool area, gymnasium, cafeteria and 1995 additions to the building. The new addition would be a multi-story education wing linking to the gymnasium through a commons area. A new band rehearsal and storage space would be added, and the current band and vocal rooms would be renovated.

The third option calls for extensive remodeling of the current building with minor additions. The circle area would be gutted and repurposed; the existing kitchen and cafeteria would be reworked; and rehearsal areas for band, orchestra and choir would be added.

Holm said LHB is recommending the second option for Superior, but he emphasized that concept plans were still in a very early stage.

“There’s an awful lot of design time and interaction with the instructors, interaction with parents, students and the public, that goes into the design of a school,” Holm said.

The estimated cost for the high school addition and renovation is $33 million, plus an additional $1 million for demolition.

LHB also recommended replacing roofs and pavement at Bryant and Great Lakes elementary schools — a cost of $1.7 million each — and investing $1 million each in Superior Middle School and Northern Lights Elementary School to update heating and ventilation systems.

In all, LHB recommended nearly $69 million in upkeep and improvements, including administrative and planning costs.

“You’ve certainly given us a lot to think about,” said Janna Stevens, Superior superintendent.

The Superior School Board will review LHB’s final report May 13 and will then decide if it wants to move ahead with a referendum. Stevens also said community meetings will be planned to gather feedback, perhaps as early as June.