The River Dell School Board recently proposed an $18.7 million renovation plan ahead of a pending referendum vote. The project, intended to modernize and improve school facilities, is backed by state funding, with local taxpayers shouldering the remaining costs. Additionally, matters related to district-wide security measures, curriculum development, and impending international school trips were discussed.
The board’s proposal, introduced by Superintendent Dr. James J. Albro, revolves around a motto of “21st century buildings for 21st century learners,” emphasizing the need for updated infrastructure to support evolving educational needs and technologies. The plan was presented in collaboration with Frank MSO from Solutions Architecture and involves comprehensive upgrades to middle and high school facilities, including STEM labs, locker rooms, auditoriums, and athletic fields, among others. A significant aspect of the proposed renovations includes a program for special needs students aged 18 to 21, which the board believes would be cost-effective and beneficial if kept within the district.
Elaborating on the financial aspects, the board estimated the total cost of the projects at $18.7 million, with $6.4 million to be provided by the state as Debt Service Aid. Local taxpayers would be accountable for the remaining $12.3 million if the referendum passed. Business Administrator and Board Secretary Trude Engle reassured that if the referendum passes, taxes will not increase, and the Debt Service is projected to decrease. She also emphasized the need for financial transparency and provided a web calculator for residents to estimate the impact on their own homes.
In addition to the renovation plan, the board discussed capital projects aimed at improving district-wide security measures. These include ventilation upgrades, electrical fire alarm upgrades, gym floor replacement, and asbestos tile flooring removal. The board also suggested incorporating graphics and branding throughout the schools to create an engaging learning environment.
On the education front, the board highlighted plans for flexible STEM and STEAM spaces, allowing for various teaching methods and activities. These classrooms aim to provide areas for robotics, electronics, and group learning. Similar projects were planned for the middle school, including auditorium renovations and upgrades to the nutritional living and wellness classroom.
The board also discussed the approval of international trips to Spain and Italy, taking into account safety concerns and insurance coverage. The trips’ academic nature and immersive language learning opportunities were emphasized, with the board agreeing that a decision to pull out could be made up until 20 days before the trip without financial consequences.
In a nod to the increasing impact of technology, the board broached the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential effects on schools. The superintendent informed the board that he had been in touch with policy-making companies to gather information on AI-related policies, with discussions acknowledging the challenges of dealing with AI, its potential violation of privacy, and the distribution of AI-generated content.