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WANTED: Community input on building new school in West Salem

Published On: Dec 24 2013 05:27:07 AM CST   Updated On: Sep 12 2013 12:11:00 AM CDT



Like many districts, West Salem is projecting a bigger enrollment of students over the next several years, but with more students comes the concerns of over-crowding in the classrooms.

Now, district officials are debating two options for building a new school.

It's something West Salem Elementary students don't necessarily notice, but staff and educators can't miss it.

“There's always students in very limited spaces and a lot of students at one time,” said John Smalley, West Salem Elementary School principal.

The school has run out of classroom and office space because of growing enrollment.

They also hold physical education classes in the cafeteria because of the small gym space, but Smalley said that's not even the worst part.

“You really feel the size of the school early in the morning at dismissal time, and then during our lunch and recess times,” said Smalley.

Each option would include building a new school on about 20 acres of cornfield on the school's property.

“We wanted to have a conversation before we got to a spot where we either had kids warehoused some place or had to do some sort of drastic measure,” said Troy Gudnerson, West Salem School District superintendent.

One option is to build a new middle school. The current building would then be renovated for fourth-and-fifth graders.

That in turn would allow more space in the elementary school. It's also the less expensive option of the two with a price tag of about $25 million.

The down side is it would cost more to maintain four buildings instead of the current three, and the older the current middle school building gets, the more costly it becomes to maintain.

The second option is to build a new school for grades four through eight and re-purposing the current middle school.

The new building would be more cost efficient in the long run and the district only has to maintain three buildings.

This option would also cost more upfront at about $30 million.

Gunderson said both options need to be considered carefully.

“When you make those kinds of critical decisions that impact taxpayers and kids and communities for 20 years, you want to make sure you make a right one,” said Gunderson.

Gunderson and Smalley agree, something has to be done sooner than later.
“It’s just to the point where with the number of sections and the number of students that we have in there, it just becomes a day-to-day safety concern and educational concern with the number of kids that we have,” said Smalley.

Gunderson hopes to have a referendum on the possible new school on the next April's ballot.

Community members are invited to informational sessions Wednesday and Thursday at the Heider Center in West Salem to learn more about the options.

There will be three sessions each day with the times listed below:

Wednesday, Sept. 11




Thursday, Sept. 12




The West Salem School District is also looking to buy the Lakeview Health Center property near the district for future expansion.