NLS residents learn about school’s $14.6M building proposal
NEW LONDON -- During band and choir concerts at New London-Spicer schools parents sit on bleachers and the music rumbles through the high ceilings of the gym. Drama students catch after-school rides to downtown New London to practice in the "Litt...
NEW LONDON - During band and choir concerts at New London-Spicer schools parents sit on bleachers and the music rumbles through the high ceilings of the gym. Drama students catch after-school rides to downtown New London to practice in the “Little Theater” that’s leased from the community theater group, and the NLS girls’ gymnastic team drives to a Bible camp in rural Spicer to practice on the school’s equipment - an arrangement that may be short-lived since the camp property is for sale.
These were some of the examples cited Wednesday during an informational meeting for why the school board is seeking voters’ approval to build a performing arts auditorium, gym and community fitness center at the high school. A “cafetorium” would also be built at the elementary school and some renovations to improve safety and increase classroom space would be made at the middle school and high school.
The $14.6 million bond referendum will be on the ballot on Nov. 4.
During the meeting, which attracted a handful of residents, school staff explained how the district’s current facilities are being used and how the needs of the students and the community are not being met.
NLS has never had a performing arts auditorium, which many smaller, neighboring schools do have.
“Arts kids have been overlooked a bit,” said Paula Prill, who teaches theater and English at NLS. “It’s a fairness factor.”
The proposal includes a 650-seat auditorium - estimated at $6.7 million - where school band and choir concerts as well as theater productions could be held.
Superintendent Paul Carlson said fine arts are not just extracurricular activities, but are a part of students’ everyday classroom academics.
Like other school districts with auditoriums, the venue could also be used for large community concerts and theater performances presented by professional groups.
Athletics Director John Vraa said even with the district’s current gyms, there isn’t enough space to accommodate the students and different sports groups.
Some kids don’t even begin practice until 9 p.m. because of difficulty getting scheduled gym space.
“We’re not up to speed with what other districts have,” said Vraa, adding that additional gym space would give the district the ability to host tournaments that would bring people to the community.
It’s not just students who would benefit from additional gym space, Carlson said.
The current 24-hour fitness center has 280 members - 80 of whom are senior citizens who participate in the “silver sneakers” program - who pay annual membership fees.
The facility is housed in an old classroom that was never meant to be a fitness center.
He said women who use the fitness center have to walk through the gym - which is full of kids when in use and pitch-black after-hours - in order to get to the locker room.
The proposal includes a new fitness center with access to lockers, as well as a two-court gym that would accommodate the girls’ gymnastic program. A suspended walking track would be above the gym, which would alleviate issues with community members who get exercise by walking in school hallways, where students are sometimes holding after-school meetings or practices.
The gym, fitness center and track would cost an estimated $6.3 million.
While she supports construction of the performing arts auditorium, Diane Thompson said she’s concerned that more money is being spent on athletics.
“If they worry me, what are other people thinking?,” said Thompson, who works as a paraprofessional for the district.
Carlson said the school board discussed whether to put two questions on the ballot to seek separate support for the auditorium and gym, but instead agreed to make it one question.
Carlson said the plan is the result of 1½ years of research by staff to find the best way to meet the unmet needs.
The elementary school addition, which would create a cafeteria and small stage for classroom productions, would allow students to use the gym for recess during cold winter days. Currently the kids eat lunch in the gym and it’s not available during recess.
That part of the project is estimated to cost $1 million.
The remaining renovations - which includes separating bus and car traffic and improving security at the middle school - would cost $480,000.
If the proposal is approved by voters, construction would begin next summer and it would be completed in time for the 2016-17 school year.