Purdy School District applies for storm shelter

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Officials envision expanding facility into performing arts center

It took three minutes and 38 seconds to move 749 students and faculty at the Purdy School District out of the campus and across the street to the grassy area by the pre-school building on the west side of Gabby Gibbons Drive.

By moving all the students in under five minutes, school officials met criteria by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to apply for funding of a storm safe room.

According to Superintendent Steven Chancellor, school officials opted to pursue construction of an additional facility and to modify the current construction plan.

The firm of Paragon Architectural is preparing the application. The basic pre-cast concrete building will be located next to the playground, west of the school buildings. It will hold 974 people and cost approximately $1.5 million. FEMA would pay 75 percent of the cost of the basic building.

"Our current thinking is to make the storm shelter into a performing arts center," Chancellor said. "We're hoping to use it for all kinds of things, including graduation. The only events we have that are standing room only are our choir and band concerts. This is a pretty musical community. We envision it being a welcome addition for a lot of people."

The district has money to match the FEMA grant, but may need to seek a bond issue to complete a performing arts center, Chancellor said. To provide enough immediate cash flow, the plan to build a new library has been put on hold.

With construction advancing on expanding the school cafeteria, the library will be effectively cut in half. A doorway for the new library will be built on the west side of the hallway, leading to the elementary wing, opening out where the modular classrooms have been located.

New and larger bathrooms will be installed next to the designated library space and the current concession stand. The move will secure the $600,000 estimated cost for the library in case the district needs additional capital for the storm shelter project.

"We could add the library at any point in time," Chancellor said.

Paragon has only begun developing plans for the performing arts center. Chancellor said a decision would be made about additional funds needed in the next 6-8 months.

The decision to shrink the library by half will change teaching strategies. The present facility will be modified with a new circulation desk and new carpeting. Computers at the west end of the library will be replaced by laptops for greater mobility.

"At first, there was a lot of confusion," Chancellor said. "[Librarian] Dianna Lasswell was looking forward to a bigger library. Now, she has good plans on how to make this work.

"We'll still have a good selection of print material. We're converting a lot to eBooks and putting a high volume of books into classrooms. Teachers will have to talk more with the librarian about what they will need. I think teachers have embraced the idea now, and they have a better idea of how this will look three to five years down the road."

Work laying blocks for the bathroom addition begins this week. Chancellor said he hopes to have a functional entryway to the gym, the main focus of the construction project, for graduation on May 10.

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