R-3 board reviews Paxton renovations, approves parking expansion that could pave way for tennis complex

The future of Paxton Elementary School involves providing needed large classroom spaces along with expanding dining areas.

The Platte County R-3 Board of Education received a design review of the upcoming renovations to help transition the building into part of the growing high school campus. This includes demolition of the inside of one of the old, rounded wings of the school in addition to turning the small gymnasium into a second cafeteria. Work is slated to start after school dismisses for the year and scheduled to be completed in time for the 2016-17 school year.

In addition, the board unanimously voted to approve a more than $500,000 project that will expand parking for the high school, while hopefully paving the way for a new tennis complex elsewhere on district property.

Michelle Chavey of Hollis and Miller Architects gave an overview of the project at Paxton, part of a $29 million capital improvement project taxpayers funded after approving a tax levy increase last year.

The plan seeks to immediately accommodate a “flexible personalized learning” pilot program set to debut this fall at the high school. According to Chavey, the goals of the renovations include creating three large group instruction spaces and a student/teacher resource center to help encourage collaboration while also modifying existing classrooms to better serve high school students.

“We are working through a less than perfect temporary solution, so we can work toward a full-blown master plan that is phased in,” Platte County superintendent Dr. Mike Reik said. “We want to keep our cost down on this project because we know it won’t be used as it is intended to be used for the short term future ultimately within the master plan of the high school.

“I think the space will be used as it is being redesigned for the next 5 to 10 years, so we’re talking about fair life for what’s intended to be a short-term use.”

Platte County hopes to enroll 170 students into the pilot to utilize time relative to strengths and weaknesses of each individual student. Platte County’s prototype will include breaking down the classroom time into 20-minute modules. These “mods” can be utilized in different ways between large-group sessions, small-group sessions and what they are calling “personalized learning time” or PLT.

The library will become one of the large classroom spaces designed to hold about 75

In addition, the current south wing of the school, which features five pie-shaped classrooms around a single hallway, will be internally demolished to create two more large spaces. There will also be a collaborative area located in between the two renovated spaces.

“This is shown more in a lecture format, but you’re going to see some of the layouts where you can really rework these in a lot of different ways,” said Chavey, explaining that the large classrooms will feature new furniture designed to allow for flexibility in room setup.

The current computer lab will become the resource center with the “professional” desk space for the eight teachers in the pilot program that allows for meetings with students as needed. The upper classrooms will be modified with the cubbie storage space removed and turned into a charging space for electronic devices.

Another charging area will be set up in the current cafeteria that also provides space for students to use while participating in the innovative pilot.

Board member Gary Brown questioned the changes to the classroom space if the pilot eventually becomes discontinued. Administration wants to take a serious look at the format with the possibility of transitioning all classes to flex scheduling if the system proves beneficial.

However, principal Dr. Chad Sayre doesn’t see an issue due to an existing need, noting that the high school often utilizes space at Platte City Middle School, and the awkward size of some of the existing classroom spaces set for drastic remodels.

“Our goal was to design this with flexibility,” Reik said. “So whether we use it for that pilot or we use it for some other concept in terms of instruction, we are lacking large group instruction areas in the high school in general. The best thing about this is, if for any reason in the future we feel like we need to build some walls, walls are cheap and relatively easy to build.

“I don’t think it limits us in any way. It does give us something that we don’t currently have much of in the high school.”

Most of the other classroom areas will remain intact.

However, the current gymnasium will be modified to become a cafeteria, while changes will be made to the existing kitchen to optimize service lines for students. This allows the high school to discontinue dining that currently occurs in the south gymnasium, taking away half of that area during lunch periods.

Prior to becoming part of the high school, a dining area was located outside the gymnasium near the kitchen for the middle school. That became impractical due to potential safety concerns with that common area becoming a more trafficked area once becoming annexed into the high school.

The south kitchen will continue to house food preparation, while the Paxton kitchen will serve as a warming station to distribute. The new cafeteria could potentially be utilized for auxiliary classroom needs outside of lunch periods.

“The whole point of this update was mostly to just provide a more high school friendly serving area,” Chavey said.

The tax levy and existing maintenance funds will pay for the additional parking, which will require the demolition of two existing but under-maintenanced tennis courts located between Paxton and Siegrist Elementary.

While not part of the specific levy ballot question, statute allows revenue generated from it to be used for capital improvement as needed. Reik said careful budgeting and pieces of the project coming in under budget helped make the plan possible.

Using dirt moved from the site of under-construction Compass Elementary, the main piece of the capital improvement project, the site will be leveled with more than 120 student/staff vehicle spaces created. There will also be a small area for activity parking that can hold about 18 buses and provide auxiliary parking for large activities hosted on campus.

Administration insists the need is there despite occasional concerns over empty spaces during the school day.

Reik noted that absences and students who utilize Northland Career Center or travel for other programs lead to perceived open spaces. The new parking should allow for all driver-aged students to have an available spot and at least temporarily keep them from having to utilize parking at Platte City Middle School.

The new lots reduce available practice space for the Pirates tennis teams, which currently use the courts set for demolition along with rented space at the courts in the Seven Bridges subdivision. The tennis teams began competition in the 2008-2009 school year and have never had a true home facility for matches, occasionally utilizing Oak Park High School to host when possible.

Previously, the district sought funding for a new facility in a previous failed tax levy, and fundraising efforts have continued in an attempt to build new courts.

“Our goal to build a tennis facility has always been motivated by a desire to see community members of all ages able to play tennis locally,” Platte County tennis coach Zach Keith said. “Our high school players are only a small percentage who would benefit from a tennis facility in Platte City.” 

Grants, in-kind labor/material donations and private donations have raised about $250,000 for the project, which should be able to fund a basic four-court setup.

Reik hopes to have that construction done in time for the fall 2016 season. Part of the work will be done through contractors already on site at Compass Elementary, including earthwork already underway south of Siegrist Elementary.

No tax revenue will be used to fund this project, but Reik still considers this a priority and hopes to accrue funds for construction of a full eight-court facility with minimal amenities on the site.