"You have to walk through classrooms to get from point A to point B," Virgil Harden says.
The free flowing '70s idea for "open concept" schools seems to have run its course in Grand Island.
Because of growing enrollment, schools like Starr Elementary have added walls to give teachers and students some privacy, and peace and quiet.
Security's also a big concern in a school with makeshift walls and no doors, and even more in the minds of educators following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.
A decade after Grand Island asked voters to replace the outdated schools, they may try again. Harden, the finance director said, "We're hopeful folks would buy into the concept." Despite several additions, they're experiencing growing pains, educating 2,000 more students than they did 15 years ago. Building and Ground Director Dan Petsch said, "We're feeling the pressure right now, especially at the elementary level on the west side of town. We've already done expansion and we're full again." The most challenging project may be another high school. It's a potential $50 million investment they're asking residents to give feedback on. "That's the key word -- dialogue," Harden emphasized. Grand Island Senior High has 2,100 kids, making it bigger than many Omaha and Lincoln schools.
Building another school won't be easy. The district needs to buy land and come up with a design, not to mention roads and other infrastructure needs.
So Harden said they may phase it in to ease the burden on taxpayers. "That kind of money is a significant investment," he said. "Is this the time to do it or are there other options?"
Believe it or not, there's still farm ground in the middle of Grand Island. One such property sits just a block from Barr Middle School on Stolley Park Road.
It could be the site of a new elementary school, and also an Early Learning Center, a district preschool. In all, they've identified $125 million worth of new construction.
The ground works starts now, with a possible bond issue.
Harden said, "There's going to have to be a group of concerned citizens and parents willing to spend time, money, and effort to make things happen."
It's a growing city, so this is not unexpected.
The challenge will be determining which needs are greater, and officials say they want to do it without a big tax increase.
Grand Island Public Schools
Long Term Building Plan
New Early Learning Center$7,500,000New Starr/Stolley Park Elementary$14,750,000Career Pathways Institute Phase III
(Remodel at GISH)$8,000,000Engleman Elementary Addition$3,500,000New Jefferson Elementary$12,000,000New Howard Elementary$15,000,000Shoemaker Elementary Addition$6,000,000Westridge Middle School Addition$5,000,000New "Class A" High School$53,250,000Total$125,000,000