Watertown schools move toward probable remodel of Primary School

STAFF PHOTO BY MATT BUNKE The Watertown-Mayer School Board is considering options for a remodeling project designed to keep the Primary School operational for at least the next 15 years.
STAFF PHOTO BY MATT BUNKE The Watertown-Mayer School Board is considering options for a remodeling project designed to keep the Primary School operational for at least the next 15 years.

Representatives of several engineering and consulting firms presented details of the estimated $4 million project to the school board during a special meeting on Monday, Dec. 10. The bulk of the project is driven by the replacement of school’s HVAC system, but will also include work on the roof, lighting improvements, flooring and ceiling improvements, and the possible redesign of the school’s media center into an office space that would house all of the offices that are currently scattered throughout different locations in the building.

Estimated construction costs are listed at just under $4.1 million, but that includes a $500,000 allowance to replace the roof. The district will likely seek alternate bids during the bidding process that would include only lesser portions of the roof, and superintendent Dave Marlette has said that he will not consider the project at more than $4 million.

Marlette said the project is driven by a desire to keep the primary school building operational for at least the next 15 years, until the current bonding for the recent elementary and high school projects expires. Marlette said that as the district continues to grow space will become an increasing problem, and the cheapest way to solve the problem in the short term is to renovate the primary school, he said.

“The main vision is how do we get from today to when that bond issue is paid off in 15 years,” Marlette said. “The easiest way to do that is spend a little money, and do only what we have to do to make that building usable for another 15 years.”

The school district already added a first-grade class at the elementary school this year, and Marlette said space is nearly maxed out in that building. He said first grade will likely be moved to the primary school building within a couple years, and a piece of the proposed remodeling project reflects that transition. The proposal includes knocking out a portion of a wall between the cafeteria and a neighboring room to create more space that would be needed for more students.

Marlette said that if the district continues to grow as projected, the district would likely have to re-examine its options in 15 years, whether that be adding a wing to the elementary school, constructing a new school closer to Mayer, or any other options that may surface before that point. The current primary school project, however, is designed to simply get the district to that point.

“This is how our district will be able to sustain our growth for the next 15 years,” Marlette said.

The primary focus of the proposed primary school remodel is the new HVAC system, which Marlette described as being inadequate and on its last legs. The plan is to use three of the boilers from the high school that need to be changed out, but in an entirely new system. Many of the ceilings will have to be torn apart as part of that replacement, and as part of that project, the lighting throughout the school will be replaced by more energy efficient lighting.

Many of the other parts of the proposed projects are cosmetic in nature, designed largely to improve the appearance of a school that was torn apart as part of an asbestos removal project last summer. As part of that project, the tile flooring needed to be pulled out throughout much of the school, leaving concrete floors and walls throughout many parts of the school. New flooring and carpeting will be installed and walls will be painted as part of the proposed project.

Another potential aspect of the proposed project would be redesigning the school’s media center, located in the northeast corner of the building, into a centralized office space for all the offices in the school. In addition the main office, located right inside the east entrance, the primary school building also holds the community education offices, special education offices, and Early Childhood and Family Education offices. However, those offices are scattered throughout the building, and the goal is to bring those offices into a centralized location near the main door. While that portion of the project will be optional and depend on the bids that come back, Marlette believes it is an important step.

“We have office staff all over that building,” he said. “Security wise, there are people walking in all kinds of doors. This would offer security, where people have to enter the building where staff is.”

At an estimated cost of $4 million spread over a 13.5-year bond, the projected tax increase would be about $13 annually for a $200,000 home. The bid date for the project is set at Jan. 24, with the school board expected to approve a bid at a tentatively scheduled Feb. 4 special meeting. If the project is approved, construction would likely begin in June and be completed by the start of next school year.