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Baldwin school officials weigh in on ‘Innovation 2020’

Residents: air conditioning, new restrooms needed

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Baldwin School District officials have in recent weeks collected residents’ input on proposed renovations for a districtwide project called Innovation 2020. Superintendent Dr. Shari Camhi presented the results at a Dec. 11 Board of Education meeting.

Renovation ideas stemmed from a state-mandated Building Conditions Survey as well as Community Input Night in 2016, when more than 100 local residents shared their thoughts on what they would like to see next to improve school facilities.

The original proposed projects and early renderings were shared at a Nov. 13 school board meeting. School officials said the plans would be adjusted based on input from residents, presented to the community and voted on in March.

Not far off from the original plans, community members said they would like to see air conditioning, new and renovated restrooms, a performing arts center, new auditoriums, redesigned elementary classrooms, a new media center to replace the high school library and new athletics facilities.

Camhi said that 347 people offered feedback via ThoughtExchange, an online platform. They shared 452 “thoughts” and more than 10,000 star ratings, or ratings on thoughts that range between one and five stars.

The idea that received the highest number of comments and star ratings was the request for air conditioning for the high school, middle school and elementary schools.

“There was a 4.4 or 4.3 average star for each of those air conditioning comments,” Camhi said. “And that was fairly consistent across all of the comments people wrote for air conditioning, so it seems like air conditioning is very high on the list.”

Another popular idea was new or remodeled restrooms. There were many comments about restrooms, Camhi said, and they generally received somewhere between four and five stars.

Building a performing arts center was also high on the list. People requested improved auditoriums at the high school and middle school as well as a dedicated space for the orchestra ensembles.

Another major theme was a desire for improvements in the athletic facilities, including new locker rooms, artificial-turf fields and a new track. These were rated between 3.5 and 4.3 stars. People also shared their desires for modern elementary classrooms and new cafeterias and kitchens.

Parents and community members also requested an updated media center to replace the high school library.

“The high school library needs to be updated to reflect the state-of-the-art educational community,” one idea on ThoughtExchange read. “The design is simply outdated and must be modernized.”

A demographic chart recorded whether a user was a parent or faculty member, or had another role in the district, and Camhi said there was good representation from across the community.

At the November school board meeting, Karen Montalbano, of the Baldwin Civic Association, commended the district’s use of technology to gather input but asked about outreach for residents who are less tech-savvy.

“There are a lot of people in the community that may not get to the phone, may not get to the website, may not know about it,” Montalbano said. “I know you’ll be able to reach out to the schools, you have those opportunities, but what about a person who doesn’t show up here who is a resident who will be voting on this and needs to see what it’s about besides just when they hear that bottom line dollar line?”

Besides mailers being sent to residents and information posted on the district website and its social media channels, “there will be meetings across the community between now and March almost on a continual basis,” Camhi said at the most recent meeting.

“Our goal here is to take the information and the input from our community and turn it into something real for our children who go to school in our school buildings and to share that openly and honestly with the community,” she said.

The final proposals, based on the feedback and the Building Conditions Survey, will start rolling out in January. Meetings will be held with the PTAs, the Baldwin Civic Association, the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce and other community groups.

“We really want to make sure the community is well-informed about the projects that are being proposed,” Camhi said.

The district also scheduled two community information nights for Tuesday, Jan. 21 and Tuesday, March 3.

“The scope of the work will be shared at both of those meetings,” Camhi said. “Not only the projects, the cost of the projects, all that kind of work.”

Some district parents, though, shared concerns about the cost of the upgrades.

“The schools need the update, without a doubt. Every one of those things is needed,” Baldwin Council of PTAs President Doris McKeon said. “People would love to have all of those things. Everyone’s just concerned about how much it’s going to cost.”