Save the "old" gym, or build a new one? Schedule construction in phases or demolish the building and start from the ground up?
Questions remain about what a new Franklin Elementary School would look like, and how it would be built.
But one thing is certain.
If Missoula County Public Schools' $88 million elementary bond request passes in November, the 1916-vintage Franklin School will get a new $11.3 million building.
Last week, Tim Peterson, principal architect with L’Heureux Page Werner, met with members of Franklin’s education innovation team, the group that articulated the school's needs more than two years ago in preparation for the bond request.
L’Heureux Page Werner is a Great Falls-based architecture firm that MCPS hired in September to conduct initial conceptual planning for the new Franklin School and the large-scale renovation and additions to Lowell Elementary.
“We’re cramming a lot into what would be two to three months of planning. We will have that time later, but we want to have something before the vote,” Peterson said.
If the elementary bond passes, it is likely that LPW will design both schools, the first projects on MCPS' to-do list if voters give the go-ahead.
Peterson showed Franklin staff, teachers, parents and MCPS administrators four early concept bubble diagrams for different potential layouts for a new building.
A new building would take Franklin from just under 41,000 square feet to a proposed 56,000.
“Hopefully in the end, the good things of everything go into one,” he said.
All of the concepts included dedicated, centralized learning communities with classrooms and other resource rooms for all grade levels, with noisier areas like a new cafeteria and the music room kept at a distance.
Rather than a school butting up against the east edge of the property as it now does, the designs put Franklin to the west near Johnson Street, with the main entrance moved to 11th Street.
The designs varied in what would stay at Franklin, what would go and how quickly. Peterson said one option was to build in phases, keeping part of the school while half of the new building was built, then demolishing and finishing construction.
That idea would mean fewer students sent to classrooms in another building during construction. LPW recently completed another school in Montana that way, and Peterson said noise wasn’t a big issue.
Phasing would also mean construction on new buildings could start as early as June, if the bond passes.
Burley McWilliams, operations and maintenance supervisor with MCPS, said the other option would be to move all students to Jefferson School and add modulars to that building.
“It's going to be a tight year no matter what,” he said.
Peterson said it was “optimistic” that the rebuild of Franklin would be completed in a year, saying 18 months was far more likely.
Keeping the existing gym, which Peterson said is still in relatively good condition, or including a new one in a better location on the property, was another variable.
The gym is in a central location that would be best used for a different purpose. Maybe it could be repurposed as a cafeteria or a central common space, Peterson said, with a new gym in another location.
Or maybe the new Franklin School doesn't need a traditional gym? That notion didn’t get any traction at last week's meeting. Community input in the planning process for the bond had been heavily in favor of keeping a full gym.
Amy Shattuck, principal at Franklin, said she worried about the backlash if a gym wasn’t part of the plans, and McWilliams said all of the gyms in the school district are booked by school or community groups at least four nights a week.
Later in the day, Peterson also gave a presentation to parents and community members about the possible designs for a new Franklin. The purpose of last week's discussions was to zero in on what the public wants to see, so LPW can begin designing more complete concepts.
LPW is scheduled to be part of another community meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21, at Franklin. Peterson said the firm will likely bring along a pair of conceptual designs with more details, one that includes keeping the current gym and one that builds a new gym.
Coming Monday: An in-depth look at how the bond money would be used at Chief Charlo Elementary.