January 31, 2014


The school in Manilla will likely be closed based on discussion among IKM-Manning Community School board members, administrators and Iowa Schoolhouse Construction and Planning Services representatives during a work session Thursday night in Manilla.

The district has been debating a building closure for nearly a year in response to decreased funding and declining enrollment trends.

Board members debated the merits of five reconfiguration scenarios presented by the consultation firm. Both scenarios receiving the most discussion involved closing the Manilla building, which currently houses fifth through eighth grades and the central office. The district currently serves pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students in both Irwin and Manning. First and second grades are located in Irwin and third and fourth grades in Manning. The high school is also in Manning.

One scenario included leaving one prekindergarten school at Irwin Elementary and converting the rest of it to a junior high building for seventh and eighth grades, moving the kindergarten, first- and second-grade classes from Irwin to Manning Elementary and moving the fifth and sixth grades and the central office from Manilla to Manning, closing down the Manilla building.

A second scenario involved moving third and fourth grades from Manning to Irwin and moving the middle-school students from Manilla to Manning, making Manning a combined junior high and high school with prekindergarten and kindergarten on one end, and keeping the gym and central office open in Manilla.

In both cases, Manilla would continue to be used as a transportation hub.

One of the merits of both options is keeping the youngest children from having a long bus ride, one of the most repeated concerns the consultation firm heard at the stakeholder meetings held in late October and early November, said Duane Van Hemert of Iowa Schoolhouse Construction.

Another merit is having the elementary classes in one place, enabling the teachers to work together and better complete professional development said district superintendent Tom Ward.

However, the gym at the high school is already used during seven of eight periods each day, said high school principal Brian Wall.

If the junior high grades all moved to the Manning building, the district would need to spend funds to add a gym, or try to work on an agreement with the Manning recreation center to use its gym, in which case class time would be lost on transportation. The Manilla gym would be kept open for junior high games and practices.

The students could also lose opportunities for extra classes if the district consolidated staff among the junior high and high school, said Ward.

However, there is only one social studies teacher shared among all four middle school grades, said Ward. The rest of the staff is divided evenly, teaching fifth and sixth or seventh and eighth, making it feasible to move the fifth and sixth grades to Manning and the seventh and eighth grades to Irwin without sweeping staff changes. In this scenario, the Irwin gym could become the junior high gym, so the decision to keep the Manilla gym open would be optional, not required, added Ward. The board could discuss the possibility of eventually turning that gym, which has its own heat source, over to the community.

In the Manning building, a curtain could be dropped in the gym to accommodate multiple physical education classes for the high school and elementary students. The district already has three teachers certified to teach PE, added Wall.

However, if the junior high were moved to Irwin, the district would need to spend money to renovate science labs and family and consumer science classrooms in the building and upgrade the gym. The technology hub, currently located in Manilla, would also have to be moved.

Though these two potential scenarios were the focus of the work session, the board members collectively agreed that they could not make their final determination until they had actual numbers, including the number of students who would need to be bused differently in each scenario and projections on what each building would cost the district over the next 10 years. They voiced strong disappointment that Van Hemert and business partner Sam Harding came to the work session without these numbers and without their own recommendation, both of which were originally slated to be presented last December.

"We don't have numbers that says this building will cost us 'x' amount of dollars," said board member Dave Heller. "We're sitting around here tonight saying we're shutting this one down - it's not fair to this Manilla community."

The board will meet once more before holding a public stakeholders meeting in order to review hard numbers for both scenarios that close the Manilla building, as well as a third scenario that closes the Irwin building, moving prekindergarten, kindergarten, first and second grades from Irwin to Manning.

The key arguments against the latter include the requirement for the district to keep two preschools open and the belief that the Irwin building, which was built in the 1950s, is more efficient than the Manilla building, which was built four decades earlier.

"I don't want to go to a stakeholders meeting and say, 'These are our options, what do you guys think?' I think we go to a stakeholders meeting and say, 'This is what we're planning on doing, what are your concerns?'" said board member Eric Ramsey. "To do this (Manilla) community justice, we need numbers."

Wall added that he would also be interested in seeing the projections on how long the district could continue before they would need to consolidate to one building to determine if the expenditures spent to adapt the buildings in the interim can be justified.

The board rejected two proposals that kept all three buildings open, and Harding confirmed that the district will continue to waste resources if the Manning building doesn't operate at full capacity. Ward said that one principal position will be eliminated.

The board will present its final decision at a stakeholder meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, in the auditorium at the high school in Manning.