Early public feedback on Idaho Falls District 91’s long-term facilities plan included plenty of overall support but concerns about the details and costs of the 10-year plan.
More than 100 community members, district officials and members of the long-term steering committee gathered Tuesday night in the Skyline High School cafeteria. It was the first opportunity for public feedback since the first draft of recommendations were announced in September by Cooperative Strategies, the school consulting company hired by the district.
The current draft of the recommendations to the district includes five points:
n A switch to K-5 elementary schools and 6-8 middle schools
n Renovating and expanding Idaho Falls High School at its current location
n A full rebuild of Skyline High School at its current location
n Creating a new high school focused on career and technical education
n Reorganizing the elementary schools, with Temple View and Linden Park being completely rebuilt and Theresa Bunker re-purposed for early childhood education
The community members attending the meeting wrote their ideas on the benefits and challenges of all five recommendations on poster paper, which was the hung along the school’s hallway. Those watching the live video of the meeting could take an online survey to share their thoughts.
Eagle Rock Middle School teacher Mark Byers said that while he was not fully on board with the proposals being made, he said they would address a lot of the district’s major needs if the proposals are eventually funded and enacted.
“I know a lot of it comes down to cost and taste, but we are here hoping to find ways to make it all work,” Byers said.
Reorganizing the elementary and middle schools would involve boundary changes to balance out enrollment numbers and expansions to all of the middle schools. Cooperative Strategies consultant David Sturtz said the change would better educate the sixth-graders, who already are on a middle school curriculum, and free up space to expand kindergarten in the district.
Parents in the room were split on which schools would be the best fit for the sixth-graders. Some argued that the students were too young to be exposed to the teenagers in eighth grade, while others believed the sixth-graders already were too mature and complicated to be in the same school as the district’s youngest students.
“They are already bringing in grown-up stuff that the first-graders don’t know about and don’t need to know about,” said Lisa Keller.
Keller also is the spokeswoman for D91 Taxpayers, the group that opposed the recent bond attempts to fully rebuild Idaho Falls High School. After attending the previous community meetings and some meetings for the steering committee, Keller said she was pleasantly surprised by the current list of recommendations to the district.
As in the previous bond discussions, the plans to rebuild Idaho Falls High School were a hot-button issue in the room. The potential sites for the expansion left out a lot of details about where students would be able to park, whether or not the district would be able to change 7th Street and which classes would see the focus of the renovations.
Some attendees remained unconvinced that the district should be focusing on renovating Idaho Falls High School and the other old schools near the city center instead of more dramatic rebuilds.
“By compromising and going with this partial rebuild, it shows that we are not fully committed to the future of Idaho Falls schools,” said Becky Harmon, assistant principal at Dora Erickson Elementary School.
Many also pointed out the mixed messages the district had sent out when it came to Temple View. In May, District 91 sent a letter to Idaho Transportation Department opposing the two plans for the interchange of Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 20 that would most impact the school’s current location and potentially force a move.
At the same time, the location the district had been considering for a relocation of the school was halted by the building moratorium near Idaho Falls Regional Airport the city put in place earlier this year. With the draft recommendation being to move Temple View to a new site, there were worries about how the district could manage the relocation.
“D91 may be waiting too long to find the new land for Temple View. House construction is taking a lot of the options in town,” parent Allison Hicken said.
No cost has yet been established for any of the five proposed changes to the district’s long-term facilities plan. Sturtz said the group plans to have a line-item cost for every change and an overall budget prepared in time for the Oct. 29 steering committee meeting.
That final 10-year budget, along with a proposed timeline for implementing the list of potential changes, will be presented to the Board of Trustees during its November meeting.