The Gibraltar School District is planning a $4.4 million remodel of its library media center and adjacent classrooms.
The project requires approval by district voters in a referendum planned for November’s general election. If approved, construction would begin in the summer of 2019 and be completed by winter break.
The school will simultaneously seek an estimated $1.4 million in a separate referendum for operational expenses – those related to keeping the lights on and staff paid.
Somerville Architects & Engineers presented initial plans and renderings to a group of about 20 parents and school staff as part of the school board’s regular meeting on May 14.
“It’s been 44 years since anything has been done,” said school board chair Mark Weborg, recalling the construction of the facility in the early 1970s. “We encourage you to support it and advertise it.”
There was unanimous support for the project from the few attendees that spoke, but they emphasized promoting the need for an updated facility and not the aesthetics of the remodel.
Representatives from Somerville emphasized the goal to add more natural light to the library and classrooms located in the center of the school building. Senior Project Manager Melanie Parma said because the remodel area is enclosed, the only option they had for natural light was to raise the roof.
Library ceilings resembling a wooden ship reach 30 feet high with large glass panes at the top to bring in natural light. Some classroom wall heights will also increase with similar windows near the ceiling.
The remodel will also create a secure entryway into the secondary school by the gym, forcing incoming visitors through the main office before entering the rest of the school.
Dick Burress, a father of Gibraltar graduates and school bus driver, said a referendum to improve athletic facilities nearly 20 years ago failed because the focus shifted from school needs to wants.
“The thing I heard the most at that time was there’s a lot of fluff here but not a lot of meat,” Burress said, adding that he supported the proposed remodel and referendum. He urged the board to focus on how the remodel would work for the betterment of the students to sell it to the community.
“Who wouldn’t want this? It’s beautiful, it’s spectacular,” said Rebecca Rericha. “I’m interested in knowing what the cost would be to taxpayers and I’m interested in learning what the environment will look like during construction.”
The estimated cost is $4,409,541. If the referendum passes, district property owners can expect approximately 40 cents added to the mill rate, or $40 per $100,000 of a property’s assessed value. The increase to property taxes is held down somewhat by the retirement of an energy efficiency bond that expires in 2019.
During construction in the summer and fall of 2019, some classes will be held in mobile classrooms on school property. Secondary principal Gereon Methner added that the school would try to make best use of space that is not impacted by construction.
At the June meeting, the school board will consider how the referendum question will be worded on the ballot. Somerville will also manage a public relations campaign in support of the project.