Toward the end of a debate about how the Springfield Public School board and its members should or shouldn’t participate in shaping how two middle schools are rebuilt, board member Steve Makoski said the board had gone too far.
Makoski spoke up to say, “I am not happy with this conversation,” adding that the board had gone too far into the weeds on the subject at hand. It was a sentiment that drew support from two members who are often at odds with Makoski, board president Danielle Kincaid and board member Shurita Thomas-Tate. And it was directed at several members he often sides with when the board divides, particularly Maryam Mohammadkhani and Kelly Byrne, who said he was looking for more communication.
Down was up and up was down briefly during the board’s discussion of the paths forward for Pipkin Middle School and Reed Academy. Ultimately, Kincaid warmed to a request by three board members to get more time to look at schematic designs with project leaders, as long as the board also took time next to look at how it views its role in overseeing the projects tied to the $220 million bond vote.
Board gets first look at new Reed, Pipkin
Although voters didn’t get a say on the $220 million bond vote until April, architects have been working for months to develop schematic designs for the two total rebuilds of Pipkin Middle School and Reed Academy tied to the vote. At worst, Springfield Public Schools leaders reasoned, the six-figure costs of the schematics would still be of value if the bond didn’t pass and Springfield Public Schools had to save them for later.
But nearly four out of every five school district residents who voted supported the ballot measure. On Tuesday, SPS board members got a first look at what the new schools could look like. A representative from Paragon Architecture presented on the 111,450-square foot, $45.5 million Pipkin project, and two representatives from Sapp Design Architects shared details about the 128,100-square foot, $48.2 million Reed rebuild.
The schematics design phase establishes the general scope and conceptual design of each project, and presenters came to the podium Tuesday night with sets of exterior renderings and interior floor plans. Next up is the more detailed design development phase.
An owner’s representative is a third party consultant hired to advocate on the school district’s behalf through the process of designing and building the schools. All along the path toward project completion, an owner’s representative hired by the district will be working with SPS and the architects to manage costs, access to construction materials and other key variables tied to the multimillion-dollar builds.
How closely that owner’s rep will be working with board members was a matter of debate Tuesday night.
In discussing what the immediate next steps are for the Pipkin and Reed rebuilds, SPS board members once again found themselves split on what the role of the school board should and shouldn’t be in overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations. This conflict led to a split among views between board member Steve Makoski and members Maryam Mohammadkhani and Kelly Byrne, a trio that over the past year has often voted in lockstep.
Highlights from the project presentations
Lindsay Reichart, Paragon’s project manager for Pipkin, said the new school will be built to accommodate up to 550 students. The current enrollment hovers around 350, board members learned. Travis Shaw, executive director of operations SPS, said later in the meeting that the capacity numbers were first developed through a commissioned study in advance of the district’s 2019 bond measure.
The district is currently conducting a boundary study, and Shaw said administrators are always looking to find the “sweet spot” for new building capacity that addresses current needs and allows for growth.
“With (Pipkin) also being an IB (magnet) school, we know that there will be more kids who want to transfer into it when you have a facility (like) we will have,” Shaw said.
The new school is set to be built on a tract of land some 4 miles east of its current Grant Beach neighborhood address, and the 20.9-acre property allows for the two-story Pipkin to spread out in a way that would be impossible at the current location. Along with dedicated spaces for career and technical education, fine and performing arts, special education and flex programming inside the building, there will be full-sized track and football practice fields outside of it.
Reichart said Pipkin’s public-facing offerings, including its gym, performing arts stage and multipurpose room will be located on its first floor. Fifteen core classrooms, three science labs and three collaboration spaces will be located on the second floor.
The new Reed Academy will be built on its current site, and is designed to house up to 725 students. The current enrollment is in the 560-student range.
“This building has served the community for 102 years,” said Kristie Beattie with Sapp. “That’s a good return on your investment.”
She said her firm’s vision for the new school will carry forward Reed’s heritage and community pride in a building that can house students for another 102 years.
Beattie said the design celebrates Reed’s focus on the arts. Reed’s schematic design has over 30,000 square feet of space dedicated to media, fine arts and performing arts spaces. Along with rooms dedicated to choir, dance, band, orchestra and mixed media art, a multipurpose auditorium and stage are among Reed’s features. There will be seating for 450 at Reed performances.
The design dedicates nearly 50,000 square feet of space to student classrooms. Project manager Bonnie Crawford told the board the larger capacity is the main factor for differences in square footage and the number of classrooms. For instance, the schematics for Reed included five special education classrooms compared to two at Pipkin.
While Reed’s rebuild won’t include the level of outdoor athletic facilities Pipkin will be able to offer, it does address a concern Crawford said came up in conversations with district administrators and Reed staff — the student dropoff car lane.
“You can see the dropoff and pickup lane — we’re able to bring the student right to the door now,” she said as she showed a rendering of it. “We don’t have to drop students off on the street.”
Next steps for architects are design development; next steps for board, owner’s representative are big TBDs
Crawford said that the next step for the architects is the design and development phase.
“What we’re really doing is building on all the energy and all the ideas we came up with,” she said. “And we have to make them work now. We have to collaborate with our engineers to make sure the systems don’t conflict with one another. If they do, we need a solution. And we work through that resolution.”
After that, you get things ready for the project bidding phase, Crawford said. Nick Fiehler with Navigate Business Solutions, the district’s owner’s representative on the projects, said construction could start eight or nine months from now.
But after asking questions centered around safety, capacity, costs, materials and more, some board members wanted more chances for input before the projects powered forward.
Last fall, the board supported the district’s decision hire an owner’s representative, an independent consultant who works with architects and the district from a building’s start to finish, said Shaw, the district’s executive director of operations.
Byrne and current board vice president Scott Crise sat in on candidate interviews for the owner’s representative process, which was a step Lathan said on Tuesday was a first for the district and its board members. But it was one she said she and her staff were fine with. Navigate was the pick.
How the board would or wouldn’t work with the owner’s representative going forward was a matter of debate that Grenita Lathan, SPS superintendent, said she wasn’t expecting at Tuesday’s meeting.
“From October up until tonight, I never heard from any board member that wanted there to be more involvement,” Lathan said midway through an hour or so of conversation after the presentations. “And if that’s your pleasure, I need direction. Because we’re a little lost now.”
New alliances form
In summary, three board members — Byrne, Crise and Mohammadkhani — clearly said they wanted some members to have the chance to sit down with project leaders and take a closer look at the schematic designs to make sure nothing at this stage was amiss. If a board member believed there was an issue, it would have to be addressed by the whole board, and soon, to keep the projects moving.
And three board members — president Danielle Kincaid, Shurita Thomas-Tate and Steve Makoski — said that was getting deep into the weeds. New board member Judy Brunner said she would sit in on a meeting after Byrne asked her to join him and Crise, but didn’t say she needed a meeting to happen either.
The sides formed during an extended conversation that circled back to a major question facing the oft-divided board, and one they will get into at a board retreat next week. The question: What is this board’s role going forward in the operation of the school district?
Mohammadkhani said she first got to look at schematic designs on the day of the board meeting. She said she wanted to know how board members could further engage after the presentations and question-and-answer session at the meeting.
Lathan said questions could be directed her way. But Byrne asked if the presentation represented a sign-off from the district on the schematic phase, something he wasn’t just yet ready to do.
Shaw said in projects past, district administrators signed off on building project phases and he would present quarterly progress reports to the board. The board’s requests for a presentation on schematic designs, and its earlier request for an owner’s representative, were different from how things went with the 2019 bond projects. He said that unless the board had significant issues with the plans at this point, administrators and architects would move ahead in fine-tuning the design work.
“I met with our owner’s rep just today and I walked Jarrett,” Mohammadkhani said. “And my understanding was that the owner’s rep was hired to help the board and to have an interface. And so what I am hearing is, this is it. But I don’t feel like I’ve had an opportunity to digest this, think about it. I’d like another opportunity to talk with the owner’s rep and sort of loop around and complete the circle.”
Byrne, a real estate developer, echoed the request and asked if he and other interested board members could meet with Shaw, the architects and the owner’s representative.
It was a request that Kincaid said went against her recollection of why the board supported the hiring of an owner’s representative in the first place.
“I thought we had hired the owner’s rep to represent not just the board but the district in making sure things were done appropriately,” Kincaid said. “And I guess that comes back to what we want the role of the board to be. Do we want to be …”
“Project managers,” board member Shurita Thomas-Tate said.
Defining roles, goals and duties
Kincaid said later it comes back to collectively what the board consensus is on how it will oversee the bond project.
“I think the owner’s rep role is to collaborate with us,” Byrne said. “Not just turn them loose. And I’m requesting an opportunity to collaborate.”
Thomas-Tate said she was concerned the board could overstep its role, get in the weeds and slow down progress.
“My concern is that is the potential of what would happen,” she said.
Mohammadkhani said she wanted to see Byrne and Crise continue to work with the owner’s representative. Byrne asked Brunner to join them, saying he valued her insights as a former principal and school safety expert during tours of York and Jarrett earlier in the day. Brunner said she’d join them if they do meet with the owner’s representative again. If something rose to the level that needed to be changed, he said, that would require board consensus. Crise said it was worth the time investment.
“And if that’s another hour, that’s another hour,” Crise said. “But we are also hired to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money.”
Crise said that changes wouldn’t necessarily be what comes out of a follow-up meeting about the schematic designs. But he said he wanted the chance to comb through them. In arguing why, he referenced the open design of Jarrett Middle School, which one of its students, citing safety concerns, had created a petition to change.
“We have all glass classrooms,” Crise said. “I don’t want to see that. You say that’s getting into the weeds, but that’s a security issue.”
Makoski, after remaining silent for much of the conversation, spoke up in favor of Kincaid’s view.
“Madam president, I think you’re exactly right, in that this is the reason we have the owner’s rep,” he said. “I think this broadens the scope — what we’re talking about right now — the scope of the board of education. I never had an intention to be getting this in-depth where I certainly don’t have the professional skill and development, nor the education. One of the purposes that I understood fully was the owner’s rep was to do this for us. These people are the professionals and we’re just getting too deep into the woods in this, is how I feel about it.
“I do understand that we have $220 million and it is the stakeholders’ dollars that we have to be looking at here, but I’m just trying to figure out what the depth of that is on the board of education to do that. I think we clearly have accomplished that up to this point. And so I’m just going to say at this point I am not happy with this conversation. I think we’re going too far with this conversation, and I am content with these people doing their job on our behalf of the board of education.”
Thomas-Tate said she agreed with Makoski, saying the board had done due diligence in hiring the owner’s representative. Byrne said he was merely seeking more communication.
Kincaid put her support behind two separate discussions. She said she would be OK if three or fewer board members wanted to meet to look over schematic designs with the project teams, but she also wanted to schedule a discussion of the board’s role in the day-to-day operations of the district to be held during the May 2 board retreat.