Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield Community School District recently completed a pair of “spark sessions” intended for the public to provide input on the district’s facility needs.
On Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 21-22, the district’s A.C.T. Building hosted a team of architects from FEH Design of Davenport, which was hired by the school board to study the district’s long-term needs and how best to accommodate them with either the existing buildings or through new buildings.
Members of FEH Design gave two formal presentations, one on Monday and one on Tuesday, after spending all day talking to members of the public about their desires or concerns for the district’s facilities. The architects talked about various scenarios for the district’s future, such as where grades could be moved to, which buildings could be combined if necessary, and the best sites for possible new construction.
Tyler Riley, project architect with FEH Design, said that his job was to listen to concerns from the public and propose solutions. For instance, if the public feels that one of the district’s buildings is getting too old and can no longer be repaired, how can the district accommodate those grades in another building?
“For instance, if one of the elementary schools was to close, how do we shift those grades to other buildings with additions,” Riley said. “So far, we haven’t gotten feedback like that yet. The feedback has been that there needs to be improvements to the buildings for the health of the community as a whole, that there needs to be a good, thoughtful process of evaluating the buildings so Fairfield can grow for the next 30-50 years.”
Riley and the other architects on hand spent the two days drawing up scenarios for various building improvements and reconfigurations. They came up with 14 scenarios and labeled them according to the number of buildings involved. For instance, Scenario 4A involves maintaining all four buildings — high school, middle school, Pence Elementary and Washington Elementary — and making additions to each to address shortfalls. Another one, like Scenario 4B, looks into building a new middle school, and making improvements to the high school.
The architects created drawings showing how Fairfield could reduce its number of buildings as a cost-saving measure. For instance, Scenario 3A involves maintaining the middle and high schools, but building a new elementary school for all elementary grades.
“We’re going to talk through the pros and cons of each of these options,” Riley said.
Riley said the district wants to involve the community as much as possible in choosing the best option.
“This is a community-driven process, not district driven,” he said. “While we’ll listen to teachers and administration, we still need the community to tell us what they feel is important.”
Kevin Eipperle, another architect with FEH Design, said the school district needs to make an investment in its facilities, but before making the investment, it needs to ensure it’s spending the money intelligently.
“You don’t want to put a new roof on a building that won’t be part of the district five years from now,” he said.
Eipperle said the district has to grapple with declining enrollment. Just before the pandemic hit in March of 2020, the Fairfield school district had lost about 200 students in the prior decade.
“Since last year, the district lost 14 students,” Eipperle said. “That’s not a huge number when you spread it across 13 grades, but it’s almost a full elementary classroom. If that keeps up, in 10 years, that becomes 140 students [down]. Will we have four buildings in the future, or should we be planning for three buildings now?”
Eipperle said a number of the scenarios looked into various configurations for four or three buildings, but the architects also drew up plans to have as few as two buildings, or even one big building for all grades. He said one scenario looked into combining all the grades into a new building at the middle school since that has the most space to accommodate a new building, and another drawing he was working one looked into hosting all grades at the FHS campus.
From September through November, FEH Design led a series of meetings with an advisory task force formed to study the district’s facility needs. That task force will meet again on Wednesday, Nov. 30 to review what was learned during the two spark sessions, and decide how the district should proceed.
Call Andy Hallman at 641-575-0135 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org