Consultants recommend closure of Manilla school building
Irwin school would become junior high
February 14, 2014
Jeff Blum, utilities supervisor in Manning, challenged the consultants’ estimate to keep the Manilla building open, citing the $975,000 figure as “overinflated.”
Consultants officially recommended Thursday night that the IKM-Manning board of education close the Manilla building to most efficiently consolidate the district and cut costs.
In the scenario proposed by Sam Harding and Duane Van Hemert of Iowa Schoolhouse Construction and Planning Services, which could save the district more than $4.5 million over the next decade, the current Irwin elementary building would become a junior high school.
IKM-Manning superintendent Tom Ward estimates that about 250 people were in attendance in the high school auditorium in Manning. Some Manilla residents voiced skepticism of the financial information included in the presentation. Others cited disappointment tempered by a sense of inevitability.
"It's like they're saying, 'We want your kids and we want your tax money, but we don't want your community'," said Manilla mayor Pat Wuestewald after the meeting.
The consultants were hired in September to offer an "unbiased opinion" on which, if any, of the district's three buildings should be closed. The discussion has been ongoing for nearly a year as the district, which already has empty space in all three buildings, faces continued declining enrollment and further cuts in state funding.
The Irwin building currently houses prekindergarten, kindergarten, first and second grades. Manilla houses fifth through eighth grades and the central office. Manning houses a section of prekindergarten and kindergarten, third and fourth grades and the high school students.
Harding and Van Hemert reviewed the structures themselves, enrollment and funding trends and community feedback. They recommend that the kindergarten, first- and second-grade students be moved from Irwin to Manning; the fifth and sixth grades moved from Manilla to Manning; the seventh and eighth grades moved from Manilla to Irwin; and the central office moved from Manilla to Irwin. The Manilla building and classroom wings would be closed and the gym kept as an optional athletic facility and potential transportation hub.
The scenario would cost about $280,000 because science and consumer science rooms would need to be renovated in Irwin, and lockers and other miscellaneous items would need to be moved from Manilla.
The benefits include avoiding nearly $1 million in deferred renovation costs that would be required if the Manilla building was kept open - according to Harding the heating and cooling system is inefficient, the pipe and duct work would need to be replaced and the mixture of new and old electrical wiring would need to be updated in the next decade - the elementary students and teachers would be in one building and therefore able to collaborate and the district would save a little more than $400,000 a year through staff and utility reductions.
The consultants rejected a scenario that kept parts of all three buildings open and a second scenario that made Manning a combined junior high and high school and Irwin an elementary school. In the latter, a room would need to be added at Irwin to accommodate all the elementary classes and a gym would eventually need to be added at Manning to accommodate both the junior high and high school physical education classes and sports teams.
In the recommended scenario, the gym at Manning is sufficient to accommodate physical-education classes for all the high school and elementary students, said Harding - a curtain could divide the gym to accommodate multiple elementary classes, and the junior high would not need to share practice time with the high school because it would have its own gym at Irwin.
However, if the current enrollment trend continues, the district will have to close Irwin in 10 to 12 years, at which point a gym will need to be added at Manning, said Van Hemert. The estimated cost for a gym addition is $750,000 to $1 million.
IKM-Manning's enrollment has been declining at an average rate of 2.4 percent for the last 14 years, Van Hemert explained. If that trend continues, the district will lose another 100 students, representing more than $600,000 in state funding, by 2018.
"Your current spending levels are not sustainable," he said. "You're going into a hole."
Even if the district were to start growing by 1 percent each year, the total number of students will still decrease by 2018 because the graduating classes are larger than the incoming kindergarten classes, Van Hemert added.
"The problem won't go away," he said, acknowledging that the decision to close a school building is difficult. "If you don't do something now ... within a year or two your reserves are going to be gone. If you just hope (the problem) goes away, it won't, and you'll end up losing your district."
According to Harding, the district has enough physical plant and equipment levy and local-option sales-tax money to pursue either scenario that closes Manilla - these funds can only be used for infrastructure expenses. In either scenario, the district could save the general fund - which can only be used for staff and utility costs - a total of $4 million over the next 10 years by reducing support staff, teachers and administrators and utility costs, as well as save an estimated $975,000 in repairs to Manilla that would not need to be made, said Van Hemert.
Jeff Blum, utilities supervisor in Manilla, said the estimate to keep the Manilla building open was "overinflated." Blum also said the boiler at Manilla is newer and claimed that the true utilities cost for the building is lower than the figures the consultants used and lower than that of the Irwin building.
Harding said Irwin has two boilers that are able to be rotated and heat only a part of the building. This allows a more-efficient heating and cooling system to be used for the rest of the building.
Wuestewald agreed with Blum's characterization of the estimated costs.
"Some of those repairs would never be done because the district would move to one building before they were needed," he said.
"We don't like (the decision), but we knew it was heading that way."
One attendee asked why the district didn't just consolidate to one building right now if it was inevitable. Harding said there is not enough space in Manning for the current student population, and there is no point in building an addition that will be empty in a decade.
Board members declined to comment on Thursday night's recommendation. They will hold a meeting next Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at the high school to hear public feedback on the consultants' proposal.
"Five, seven years ago when we started this merger project, everybody knew this day was coming when one of our buildings was going to have to be closed," said John Halbur, who lives north of Manning. "The school board needs to be shown a little respect, or sympathy maybe, for having to make this tough decision."
The board will vote on a decision at its March 6 meeting.
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