Board of Ed looks to set date for public hearing on Ox Ridge construction

The Board of Education continued to look into options for Ox Ridge Elementary School repairs at the Wednesday, March 14 regular meeting. Erik Kaeyer, from KG+D Architects, was on hand to present options to the board ranging from renovation of existing space to a completely new build.
KG+D was hired in 2016 to create a master plan for the district, and at the time recommended a major renovation or replacement of Ox Ridge. The recommendations included the consolidating of Early Learning Program into one location, removal of the 14 modular classrooms or “portables” at four schools in district, as well as additional classrooms at Hindley and Holmes.
Ox Ridge was built in 1966. “It is what we call ‘thin skinned,’” Kaeyer said, meaning that construction in the 60s was not nearly as well conceived as in prior years. Buildings from the 1930s and 1940s could be renovated forever, Kaeyer said, but building like Ox Ridge could not. Kaeyer said that the the buildings electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and fire systems are reaching the end of their useful life, and some of the building finishes are over 50 years old.
Kaeyer said the 1996 addition at Ox Ridge makes sense as the home of a consolidated ELP, as the classrooms within it are large and up to state codes and the space provides some separation from Ox Ridge while maintaining connectivity.
Kaeyer laid out three options to the Board of Education, all of which are still drafts and preliminary, that were similar to options discussed by Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner at an earlier board meeting.
The first option is a renovation of the existing building. There would be a new roof, insulation, windows, and fixing of building systems. The interior finishes, meaning walls, bathrooms, doors, ceilings, and others would be redone, and 21st Century technology would be built in where possible. The parking lots, sidewalks, and driveway would be repaired, as would the playgrounds. This is the least expensive option, coming in at just over $25 million. The existing building deficiencies would remain, the construction would take multiple summers to complete as the building would still be in use, and this option does not allowed for a consolidated ELP or the removal of modular classrooms. It also does not take enrollment growth into account and would likely have a lifespan of about 25 years.
Option two would be the renovation is option one, plus an 18,000 square foot addition. The addition would be at the lower end of the campus and add classroom space as well as a library media center. Option two differs from option one in that it allows the consolidation of ELP and removes the modular classrooms. Like option one however, the buildings deficiencies would still remain, and there would be a classroom space shortage during construction once the modular classrooms are removed. The price of option two was just under $40 million.
Option three is the construction of a new building. The entire 1966 build would be replaced and an addition of a common space, meaning gym, cafeteria, and theater that could see community use outside school hours as well. The new building would go up while school is in session, which means construction time is shorter. The 1996 addition would remain as the home of the consolidated ELP program. The portables would be removed, and lower fields would be renovated. The new build would also be energy efficient, which provides long run savings. The price tag for a new build is just under $50 million.
Board members were eager to ask questions about the proposal. Jill McCammon wanted to try and assess the impact of the consolidated ELP, as well as being certain that the 1996 space was adequate.
“What are we designing for the space for? What are the requirements we want to hit?  I don’t want to hear in five years that we can’t do something or the space is inadequate,” McCammon said, also asking what happens to the classrooms in other buildings currently occupied by ELP. Kaeyer said the 1996 space currently has 10 classrooms that are as large or larger than all other ELP classrooms in district, with 7 of the 10 being 930 square feet, which is larger than the state standard.
Dennis Maroney asked for information about the size of the new building and campus as a whole. Kaeyer explained a new build would be just over 80,000 square feet, and the current building is 57,000 square feet. Maroney also cautioned people that while option one may be the cheapest, that price tag could be deceptive, as he too looked at the district wide impact of the Ox Ridge project.
“Option one may be cheapest, but it’s not as cheap as it seems if you have to then add on or spend at all the other schools, whereas option three could solve all our problems at once,” Maroney said.
The board continued discussion and wrestled with the idea of how to hold a public hearing on the issue while maintaining focus on Ox Ridge. Multiple board members spoke about how a rebuild would impact other schools in the district, and parents and community members would have questions and want to offer feedback regarding that impact.
Originally, the board floated the date of March 27 as a possibility for a public hearing. However during public comment, parents and PTO members for multiple elementary schools said that date might be too soon, and it would not give enough time for community members to adequately educate themselves on the options for Ox Ridge and formulate questions and feedback. The board instead looked to set a date in early April, but a firm date has yet to decided upon. Regardless, parents and others have begun looking at the options presented in an effort to offer the best possible response when the public hearing does arrive.
The presentation made to the board by Kaeyer, including differences between each option, pricing, and other renderings, can be found on at www.darienps.org, under Board of Education meeting materials.