By Eli Balisi and Brynne Albert
Batavia Public Schools is currently planning a multi-year project called the Building Our Future Together Plan that, if passed, will see renovation and reconstruction of Batavia school buildings.
If the plan is approved, Alice Gustafson, H.C. Storm, J.B. Nelson, and Louise White Elementary Schools will all be completely rebuilt, and the remaining schools will see significant renovations.
According to the listed plan on the Batavia Public School’s website, the mission of the Plan is “to meet teaching and learning needs of today and the future.”
Although the District has made progress in gathering information and making decisions, there is not yet a clear time frame for when these renovations will occur. Speaking as a member of the Plan Committee, BHS athletic director Dave Andrews said “Once [the plan] gets voter approval, we have a timeline to spend that money, and it’s typically very immediate.”
According to Andrews, one of the foremost priorities of these renovations is to adjust the classroom environment for the modern world.
“We need to build more flexible spaces in our classroom,” Andrews said. “Instead of just the traditional (classrooms with), kids sitting in a desk with a chair, you’ve probably seen a little bit of classrooms that we’re trying out here with a little bit more of the flexible seating, where you can move around more, soft seating areas.”
He also added that the primary stated goal of these classroom environments is to “allow more flexibility because the technology is so high now…that allows those teachers to have that flexibility to teach in 2022.”
Another goal is to enhance lab environments with better HVAC and ventilation systems.
He also expressed interest in redesigning the schools’ hallways and overall structure, saying “We’re going to upgrade the wayfinding, we’re going to upgrade, again, a lot of the HVAC in those areas. You may even see some hallways that don’t exist anymore.”
In order to finance this project, the district is planning to propose a renewal of existing tax bonds without raising the financial burden on residents.
“By the time we’re able to get this going, we can reissue more bonds…at no burden to the taxpayers. So, there would be no increase to the taxpayers,” Andrews said. He also discussed an adjustment to the district budget, saying that “The goal of the district… is to annually, over the course of the next few years they’re going to increase that budget, so you can do bigger projects and larger projects.”
The District is still in the process of planning exactly how to acquire these funds. Regarding financial planning for this endeavor, school board member Chris Lowe said that “The stage that we’re in now is determining what we want to ask taxpayers for. And then, next spring, we will put it to the voters, and if it passes, it is likely that construction on some of the renovations will probably start almost immediately.”
Although the team is fairly confident in their approach, there were some difficult decisions to make, especially in regards to the decision to keep the six community elementary schools structure.
“If you were looking at it purely from a dollars and cents perspective, just pure money, it is much more cost-effective if we would’ve consolidated elementary schools, just because the student population doesn’t really support six elementary schools,” Andrews said. “That’s very emotional, that’s very stressful, that has major impacts on the community itself. Because people move into neighborhoods, people move into Batavia, because they have a community school right by them…the community spoke loud and clear about that.”
Lowe also spoke on community involvement.“We are reaching out to the community to help get feedback to find out what the community wants,” Lowe said.
Community feedback is a large part of how the district is considering various decisions.
Another challenge that the committee is addressing is how the District will educate the students displaced by the process of rebuilding.
“So the plan right now is that we will be able to reconstruct the new schools side by side with the existing school so that the kids will be able to stay in the existing school,” Lowe said.
The Building Our Future Together Plan is definitely still in the stages of planning and design that is necessary for an endeavor of this scope, but there seems to be ambition behind the efforts that the district is making.
“We’re a large institution,” Lowe said. “It takes a long time to get stuff done. We have to plan ahead so that we have the resources when we need them.”