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Fort Frye BOE hears facilities update

LOWER SALEM — The Fort Frye Board of Education heard a 20-minute presentation on the findings of the district master facility planning committee Thursday night, the culmination of two years of evaluative and analytical work on the district’s future.

“We’re in the final phase,” Superintendent Stephanie Starcher said as she went through a series of slides showing the committtee’s findings. The board met in the gymnasium at Salem-Liberty Elementary School.

The committee’s goal has been to create a long-term plan for facilities “that supports the vision for learning in our district for future generations of students,” a summary of the work stated.

Starcher said the committee analyzed three scenarios: keeping the current building configuration, which includes elementary schools in Lowell, Lower Salem and Beverly, and a middle-school high-school building in Beverly; closing Lower Salem school and converting Lowell Elementary into a kindergarten through second grade school, Beverly Center to a grade 3-5 school, and rebuilding the grade 6-12 complex; and building an entirely new K-12 complex in Beverly.

The work of the committee – which Starcher said is made up of 18 members from the schools and the community – is based on work done by architectural and design consultants hired in June 2018. The district held an extensive community visioning session in February of this year.

Further analytic work was done by a stakeholder group and presented to the board in September, and the master facilities planning committee began its work at that point, to bring together the architectural and design findings and the educational visioning conclusions. That committee’s final report is due in March, but its interim findings presented to the board Thursday night will also be the subject of three public meetings in November to gather feedback and adjust the plan as needed.

Keeping the system as it is, with necessary major repairs, renovations and maintenance, is expected to cost the district $26.6 million, “and that’s without the changes recommended in the visioning report,” Starcher said.

Renovating Lowell Elementary, closing Salem Liberty and rebuilding the middle-school high-school, she said is estimated at $46.7 million. A new K-12 campus, she said, is estimated at $45 million.

The report also assessed savings in operating costs, with the Lowell conversion option saving $180,000 a year and the new K-12 campus saving $400,000 a year.

Starcher was careful to emphasize that those savings are net of educational improvements.

“The committee has said it doesn’t want staff reductions, but rather re-investment in service changes, for example, if we save a teaching position we get a resource officer,” she said. “This is a conservative forecast. If there is more to be had, we want to reinvest it in education.”

The projections assume enrollment holding steady at about 1,000 students, she said, an assumption that is based on data going back more than a decade.

The community meetings all are scheduled for 6 p.m., on Nov. 19 at Salem-Liberty Elementary School, Nov.21 at Fort Frye High School, and Nov. 25 at Lowell Elementary School.

In other matters, the board:

¯ Saw presentation of awards for outstanding classified staff member Theresa Warren, secretary at Beverly-Center Elementary; outstanding administrator Megan Miller, principal at Beverly-Center; outstanding male student Brady Schilling; and outstanding female student Lydia Klinger.

¯ Acknowledged donations of cash and goods valued at a total of $4,465

¯ Received a briefing on the use of new forms for evaluating the superintendent and treasurer, and new self-evaluation forms for board members.

The board is scheduled to meet next at 4 p.m. Nov. 21 at Beverly-Center Elementary School.

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