School Board may decide to focus efforts on replacement of Karcher School

By Alex Johnson


Deciding whether to hold a lone referendum to address renovation or replacement of Karcher Middle School is the challenge now facing members of the Burlington Area School District Board of Education.

Board members on Monday discussed the best approach to address the needs of aging facilities following an updated facilities planning presentation by Nicholas Kent from Plunkett Raysich Architects.

The presentation and discussion comes in the wake of three separate referendum questions – addressing Karcher School, athletic facility at Burlington High School and a performing arts center – that failed during last April’s election.

Monday’s presentation, which delved deeper into the next steps for construction projects in the district, gave the board a closer look into their options for Karcher School and a possible maintenance package for other district facilities.

The board’s main discussion hinged on whether in the next referendum to pose a question asking for both a maintenance package and a middle school construction project at the same time, or pursue the middle school construction project first, and then the maintenance project second at a different time.

“We drop $15 to $20 million in a building and come back two years later and say ‘We want to make some changes to those buildings,’ that’s just not going to happen” said board member Barry Schmaling.

The first option presented Monday involves renovating the entirety of Karcher School, located at the corner of Wainwright Avenue and Robert Street.

A few of the renovations that would take place include updating entryways “to secure entrances at all buildings,” “shift fifth and sixth grades into Karcher,” “convert Dyer Intermediate School to an elementary school” and “renovate spaces at elementary schools for some modern learning.”

Option two calls for a new middle school adjacent to Karcher, an option that has “been asked by the community,” said Nick Kent.

This option would move the fifth and sixth grades into the new middle school, with a “target middle school capacity” of 858 students. It would include construction of a “wing with a dedicated entrance for the consolidated Montessori School grades 4k through sixth.”

The existing Karcher School would be demolished at the completion of the construction of the new middle school.

The third option is a hybrid of the two previous options and features a renovation and reconstruction of parts in the existing Karcher School.

All three of the options involve moving toward a fifth- through eighth-grade school configuration, a decision that was made before two board members, Susan Kessler and Peter Turke, were a part of the board.

Turke said, “I’m not really set on five through eight, I know I wasn’t on the board when we did all the hard work to figure it out (but) I think we should be thinking whether we should go (six through eight) or even (seven through eight).”

Kessler echoed Turke comments, expressing a desire to revisit the grading level structure, but asking the whole board to meet on the issue, again ­– an idea Schmaling did not wholly agree with.

“We can revisit grade configuration if we want, but again, a lot of time was spent on that. The strategic plan, a lot of time was spent on that…Decisions were made, we’re supposed to honor those decisions, and find the best way forward with them.”

Superintendent Peter Smet attempted to find a middle ground, offering to meet with Turke and Kessler separately to review the full data set the board received at the time of discussion.