What will the renovations and additions look like?

The ballot language outlines the projects, and the money must be spent toward the projects detailed in the ballot language. Detailed design, though, does not take place until after a successful bond vote. 

We know everyone is eager to know is what our facilities will look like, and we don’t expect the community to support a project without knowing what it will look like. That’s why, OPN Architects has developed design concepts intended to give the community an idea of what the new and improved buildings could look like. But we want to stress that these are just initial ideas. There’s a very real possibility that the final design won’t look anything like these pictures. That’s ok because the final design will include a lot more feedback from staff and students. Schools reflect a community’s personality, pride, and philosophies. After the bond passes and before the design of Marion’s new spaces, OPN Architects will spend time getting to know the community’s collective vision for how the building will be used and what each space should provide. OPN Architects will help Marion staff and administration analyze, assess, and synthesize data, methodologies, and facilities to create a blend of physical, digital, and immersive environments that enable your staff to teach and mentor the next generation of innovators, creators, collaborators, and leaders.

Which project will happen first?

This plan addresses both short- and long-term district needs. As such, projects will not begin and end all at once. There are factors that will dictate how some projects are slated. For example, because of rules around how school funding is spent, the new activities complex must be paid for using the general obligation bond funds supplemented by insurance money. The district also needs to replace the derecho-damaged track and field to host home events. Additionally, a new elementary can’t be built at Thomas Park until the field is relocated. So it is likely that the field will be addressed first. However, there will likely also be opportunities for some projects to run concurrently. An exact timeline will be developed as part of the design process after the bond passes.

Why can’t we pay for these improvements without a bond vote?

School district funding is a complicated issue. While generally it is considered wise to save money for a rainy day – or in this case a large expense – school districts are not legally allowed to stockpile large savings accounts. As a protection for tax payers, they are encouraged by law to operate in such a way that they spend all that they bring in each year. This general fund is used to pay salaries and buy supplies. Think of it like a checking account for day-to-day expenses.

Other funding streams include PPEL, which can be used to improve ground and buildings; and the 1-cent sales tax (SAVE), which can be used for capital projects. As we look at ways to finance our facilities project, we try to use funding sources – SAVE and PPEL -- that have the least amount of impact on property taxes for our community.  It is possible to use these funds for large-scale building projects. However, doing so depletes those funds and doesn’t allow for a cushion should the district need to fix a broken window or replace a piece of equipment, for example. That is why large-scale projects tend to be funded by voter-approved general obligation bond. Projects paid for using bond funds do not affect the general fund, which is used for teacher salaries and other operational costs.

What happens if the projects go over budget?

The district is not allowed to bond beyond the amount approved by voters.  Of course, Anyone who has ever taken on a construction project no matter how big or small knows that there are always unforeseen costs. In the architecture and construction industry, these are called contingencies. A contingency budget is built into the overall budget. Typically, at this point in the project, this is around 20% of the total project budget, which is the case for the cost estimates Estes produced as part of this planning process. This means that our budget is built to be flexible to accommodate unforeseen situations. Throughout the design process, there will be regular cost estimates, each with more detail that help the design team and district stay aligned with the budget. 

What about the rest of the district’s needs?

The district hired OPN Architects to conduct a thorough assessment of all its facilities with the goal of understanding the cost of renovating and repairing all its buildings. As you might imagine, the initial list was long, and our budget is finite. The Facilities Advisory Committee engaged in a review of all of this information as well as data such as enrollment trends and school finances in their efforts to determine the short term (2 to 5 year) and long range (7 to 10 year) facility priorities, which they recommended to the MISD Board. This doesn’t mean, though, that the district has lost sight of other needs identified in the assessment. In fact, the plan presented to the board by the committee specifically identifies renovations to the high school and FMI as top priorities as soon as funding is available. This is why our facilities plan is a living document that will be reviewed and validated every 3 to 5 years.   

Why do we need a new auditorium? Where will it be located?

Marion’s current auditorium is undersized and in need of repair. OPN’s assessment of the space revealed that renovating the space was not the most fiscally responsible decision. By adding a new auditorium onto the high school, the existing auditorium can be renovated into additional classroom space while also creating new spaces we do not currently have associated with our existing auditorium such as restrooms, pre-function space, storage, and dressing rooms. The new auditorium will also be safer and more comfortable than our existing auditorium. Additionally, auditoriums are more than performance venues; the school district will use the space for more than music and dramatic performances. They are large classrooms for fine arts and technology programs. It will also fill an unmet need in the district for a space to host other events for large audiences – speakers, ceremonies, professional development days, etc …  -- without monopolizing gym space. It also will be open to the community for rental.

Why move the football field from Thomas Park?

As one of the district’s aging facilities, Thomas Park was always included in the facilities planning process. August’s derecho reframed the conversation, though. It created an urgency by rendering the existing facility unusable. Assessments of the damage and cost estimates showed that cost of returning the field to its pre-derecho state, including some improvements, was just $120,000 less than building a brand-new stadium. Moving the football field allows the district to build a multi-use complex, which will include a field for both football and soccer as well as a track and can be used by the marching band and for district outdoor events and field days. The complex, which will include home and visitor stands, press box, and concessions, adjacent to the high school also creates efficiencies and opportunities for the district. Existing locker rooms at the high school can be used by home and visiting teams. There is more parking at the high school than at Thomas Field. Travel to the field, including hauling equipment, will be eliminated. The track can be used by the community for walking and running.

What other improvements will be made at the high school?

Throughout the planning process, based on input from staff, students, and the community as well as the facility assessments, which showed several areas of need at the high school, the facility committee consistently acknowledged that the high school needs to be renovated. This plan, includes funding for the most critical structural issues to exterior walls. In addition to the bond projects, the facilities committee also challenged the district to commit additional maintenance funds along with the bond to adding air conditioning at the high school. While this project will not be fully funded by the bond referendum, based on community input, the committee felt strongly about ensuring it was addressed concurrently with the bond projects.  In addition to the structural repairs and the air conditioning, depending on the location of the new auditorium addition, adjacent classrooms and spaces will likely also be renovated.

Why not replace FMI?

Francis Marion Intermediate’s biggest challenges  are lack of space both in need for additional classrooms as well as in size of the oldest classrooms as well as the need for increased entrance security. By removing the oldest part of the building and adding a new wing to the east of the building as well as a new secure entry, the district is able to preserve the parts of the building, including the 1999 addition, that are in the best condition. The addition will add eight 800-square-foot classrooms as well as new art and music rooms, which will also serve as a storm shelter for the building. By reconfiguring the footprint of the building on the site, traffic flow and parking will improve while retaining the existing track.

Why did the district decide to build a new elementary school at Thomas Park Field instead of repairing Starry Elementary?

The district hired OPN Architects to conduct a thorough assessment of all its facilities. This assessment was conducted in the spring, with the goal of understanding the cost of renovating and repairing all its buildings. In the case of Starry Elementary, the district could invest in bringing the building up to code, address accessibility, and generally refresh the spaces. However, the site does not accommodate a significant addition, without which, the disparity between Starry and the newer Longfellow would remain. Additionally, the co-location of the elementary school adjacent to the high school has drawbacks, such as traffic congestion. Moving the elementary school creates space at the high school campus for future use. Considering all these factors, the consensus at both community and facility group meetings was to pursue a new elementary school at Thomas Park, which will have:

  • Updated spaces & finishes

  • A safe, secure entrance

  • ADA compliant spaces

  • Collaborative learning spaces

Additionally, based on initial studies by the engineers there are less concerns with traffic at this site than the current Starry and FMI locations that are in residential areas. The parking will allow for a one directional traffic loop for drop off and pick up to help with traffic flow. 

There is also room for expansion on this site in the green space behind and beside the building. The district owns the field location as well as a large maintenance building to the east of the field. 

Will flooding be an issue for the new elementary building at Thomas Park Field?

FEMA is in the process of updating flood maps across Iowa and currently in Marion.  As can be seen from the snapshot below, the current football field is just outside of the 500-year flood area.  If you are interested in studying  current maps across the state, please use this link:  https://ifis.iowafloodcenter.org/ifis/newmaps/risk/map/  

When the new elementary school at Thomas Park is designed, the city will review the project as it relates to the flood plain. Based on research by the design engineers and input from the city, to date, flooding historically is on the park side, which is lower than the field. As residents of the district may  remember, waters have occasionally risen on the field side as high as the track.  Fortunately, the site is big enough to  ensure the building is designed to sit safely above the 100-year flood elevation.

Flood map

What will happen to the existing Starry Elementary?

Starry Elementary will not be included in specific renovations under this project.  For now, the building will be decommissioned to save on maintenance costs. While there are no immediate plans for the building, relocating the elementary school allows for future growth for the high school campus, including potential classroom space for programs like Career and Technical Education or district offices.

How will this project improve safety and security?

Renovations at FMI as well as the new elementary school will both include a new secure entrance. This means visitors during the day would enter a secure vestibule adjacent to the office. This will dramatically improve security at the FMI, which currently lacks a clear or secure entrance. 

The plan to relocate the elementary school and reconfigure FMI’s site will also allow for improved traffic flow at both facilities. Improvements include: overall access, parking, and congestion, separate parent/bus drop off and pick up areas which will eliminate existing concerns about children needed to cross through lines of traffic. 

Planning and design of the new elementary school will also address a storm shelter and play area containment, such as fencing,  to ensure playground safety for all PK-2 students

How will parking be affected?

The plan alleviates parking challenges throughout the district. Moving the athletic complex to the high school creates more parking opportunities. Moving the elementary school to the Thomas Park site allows for improved access, bus parking, and alleviates congestion at the high school. By reconfiguring FMI’s site, traffic there will now be separate and dedicated car and bus drop off and pick up, more parking, and improved one way traffic on Second Avenue.

How do school facilities affect economic development?

Schools are integrally tied to a community’s economic vitality. According to a recent study by real estate search engine Trulia and Harris Interactive, the majority (57 percent) of parents with children under 18 would pay above listing price to live in the neighborhood with ideal schools. Marion has seen tremendous growth and development in recent years. As Marion continues to look to the future, our school facilities will play a critical role in our community’s growth.

What will happen to the youth baseball fields and soccer practice field?

The youth baseball fields to the east of the high school, which were damaged during the Derecho, are located where the new activities complex will be built.  The district has reached out to the City of Marion regarding the need for youth fields in long range city planning.  Although the district strives to support youth programs, district funds and facilities must be allocated and prioritized for district-sponsored and funded programming.  

The existing soccer will remain for practices and potentially games if there are multiple games scheduled concurrently.

Will this plan accommodate growth in the district?

We have analyzed enrollment trends over the past 20 years, as well as birth rates and future enrollment projections. The district maintains a steady enrollment for on-site attendance. Under this plan, each of the sites would have room for expansion if needed. All new construction will include a few classroom spaces to accommodate larger class sizes if we were to see an atypically large cohort.