Silver lining to COVID cloud for Licking Elementary

Photo submitted
Example of modular building.

By Shari Harris, Publisher

The long anticipated replacement of trailers at the Licking R-VIII Elementary School appears to be near, thanks to government funds related to COVID relief. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds come from the U.S. government, and Missouri Governor Mike Parson allocates the money to schools based on student enrollment. With the condition of the elementary trailers continuing to deteriorate, this likely once-in-a-lifetime windfall couldn’t have come at a better time for the district.

ESSER-I funds were allocated in the spring of 2020, and these were used to purchase Chromebooks and make other upgrades to numerous systems on the campus, allowing the school to respond to the immediate COVID-related needs of the district. The ESSER-II funds will be released this spring, and must be used by September 2023, on projects related to COVID relief or pandemic preparation. The district will be eligible to receive $1.48 million in ESSER-II funds.

During the February and March school board meetings, the board wrestled with how best to use the funds. The cramped spacing in the trailers makes their replacement eligible for fund use. Due to the poor condition of the trailers, their replacement is considered a priority. Other considered uses for funds included fixing windows and doors on the campus to allow improved ventilation and air flow, replacing or upgrading HVAC systems to improve filtering of air and air flow throughout the buildings, and purchasing more Chromebooks.

Three types of buildings were considered to replace the trailers.

A brick and mortar, while the longest lasting, also carries the most expense. Estimates received by the board indicated the finished product could exceed the ESSER-II allotment and create debt. The last two votes by the citizens of the district appeared to indicate debt was something they wanted to avoid.

A metal building, due to the high cost of steel, carried a price tag nearly as high as brick and mortar, and based on experience with other metal buildings on campus, would require more repairs than brick and mortar.

A modular building was estimated at $550,000, leaving funds available for dirt work, concrete, plumbing and internal fixtures. The replacement of the trailers could potentially be completed over the summer break. When all work is complete, any remaining funds could be applied toward other projects, such as windows and doors, or the HVAC system.

The board opted for the modular building, and the district is seeking bids for construction and installation of a concrete pad. The purchase of additional Chromebooks is also planned, with 250 ordered for 3 – 6 grades, which would be available for the fall 2021 semester. This would allow for each student, grades 3 – 12, to have access to a Chromebook next school year. Other spending of funds will await completion of the project to replace the trailers.

The eight-classroom modular building will be 8,000 square feet. The current trailers house second and third grades, Title Reading and Title Math classes. The modular building would be used for fifth and sixth grades, Title Reading and Title Math classes. Third and fourth grades would move into the current fifth and sixth grade classrooms. Second grade would move to the fourth grade classroom.

This replacement of the trailers will not fulfill all the needs for an elementary expansion. Overcrowding continues to be a problem in the cafeteria. Preschool students continue to cross the parking lot to the main campus during inclement weather and for storm/tornado warnings. Students cannot move building to building throughout the entire elementary without going outside, which creates security issues and exposes children to severe weather.

The project will provide a temporary respite while the district continues to pay off other debt. If future expansion occurs, the modular building could be resold and the concrete slab could be utilized either in the expansion or for other purposes.

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