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Hutchinson Public Schools seeks $28.8M bond in November

It’s official: Hutchinson Public Schools will ask voters for permission to seek $28.8 million in bonds to renovate its early childhood and elementary buildings.

The decision was made unanimously by the School Board Monday night, which means voters within the district will vote Nov. 5 on a question that would raise property taxes to pay for the expense. Over the next three months, area residents can expect the school district to distribute information about the project as the details become more concrete, and for public information sessions to be scheduled to answer questions.

In addition to numerous meetings with community groups, school administrators used a similar strategy to inform voters about a $45 million project to renovate Hutchinson High School and improve security throughout the district a few years ago.

“We’ll start to produce some informational pieces on our website,” said superintendent Daron VanderHeiden.

An early concept reviewed by the School Board at the end of last month was designed by LHB with help from school administrators, school staff and district residents.

“I anticipate doing that (again) as well as working with staff at a higher level to get ideas and prepare for the election,” VanderHeiden said.

Work identified by the school district calls for $35.3 million, though long-term facility maintenance bonding from the state and capital reserves would cover a portion of the expense, bringing it down to the $28.8 million to be reflected in the bond referendum voters will decide.

With a 22-year bond, the referendum would add $143 annually (roughly $12 per month) to the taxes of a home valued at $150,000.

The project

Proposed by the school district is a project that would demolish the 1956 addition to Park Elementary, construct a two-story wing on the north side of West Elementary, and transfer second and third grade to West Elementary.

The School Board hopes to address the needs of the aging Park Elementary building, including its electrical and mechanical systems, and poor energy efficiency. The school was originally completed in 1938. Additional sections were added in 1956, but today the building is not as compatible with new technology as others in the district, and the layout provides fewer options for teaching approaches.

At West Elementary and the small ECFE building on its northwest side, upgrades are sought for early childhood education spaces and building infrastructure.

There is also the issue of comfort for students. The top floor of Park Elementary can reach 80 or 90 degrees early and late in the year.

Administrators believe it would be expensive to renovate Park Elementary’s 1956 addition, which can be seen today on the northwest side. The plan to construct a new wing at West Elementary and use that opportunity to improve the building for early childhood programs is believed to be more economical.

Following the proposed demolition of the 1956 addition, the installation of new glass to better regulate heat paired with the removal of window panels would make Park Elementary look much as it did when it was constructed about 80 years ago.

The following information was reviewed at a School Board meeting July 31, with a layout draft designed by LHB. It reflects an early, conceptual design created for budgeting and financial planning.

West Elementary

The current south and parking lot entrance used by buses and parents would no longer receive the bulk of traffic. It may be used for early childhood and special education services, and traffic associated with those services. Parents would instead drop off and pick up students in the west parking lot. Plans show a new east parking lot, which would be accessed through Hutchinson Middle School, would be added for bus traffic.

The school’s main entrance would be on the northwest side, near the visitor parking lot on the west.

The west wing would be used exclusively for kindergarten.

The current central wing, which extends to the north, would be used for early childhood education, special education and staff rooms. The south portion of the building would also be used for early childhood education, roughly doubling the program’s current space and providing easier access to amenities.

The east wing, which extends to the north, would be used for specialized rooms such as music, art and STEAM. The north side of that wing would be used for first grade.

In the proposed two-story addition on the north side, more first-grade classrooms would be added alongside those in the east wing. The northwest portion of the new addition would be a second-grade wing. The second floor would primarily be used for third grade. More space would be available for collaboration between classrooms, for group learning and for media, lunch and gym space.

Park Elementary

The demolition of the 1956 addition would create space for a new approach to guide buses off city roads when dropping off students. The conceptual plan references a new parking lot, which buses would approach from Grove Street and depart on Glen Street.

The west wing in the basement would be used for specialized rooms such as band, STEM and a media center. The hallway would be widened for group learning spaces. The east side would still be used for the cafeteria, with the north side of that wing for special education. Those special education services would have their own secured entrance.

On the first floor, the main entrance would remain on the southeast side in front of the auditorium. The previous office, as well as the current media center, would be renovated into classrooms. As a result, the entire section of the first floor facing Glen Street would be fourth-grade classrooms, with group learning spaces and flexible spaces mixed in.

The west wing of the first floor would be used for special services and for the Transition Assistance program, which could move from its building across the street. That section of the building would have its own secured entrance.

Much like on the first floor, almost all of the second floor facing Glen Street would be used for fifth-grade classrooms, with flex spaces and group learning spaces mixed in.

Park Elementary principal Dan Olberg said bringing all the classrooms for each grade level together would not only create more opportunities for teachers to collaborate, but also more opportunities for shared storage, which would in turn allow more learning space in classrooms. He said proposed flexible learning areas would also provide more learning space compared to what is available today.

The west wing of the second floor would be used for art and music space, as well as for English as a second language and speech programs, among others.


Stephen Wiblemo / Staff photo by Stephen Wiblemo  

Prodigious produce

Kelby Wichman helped her grandma, Kari Fraser, unload produce at the Fairgrounds Tuesday, and judging by the size of it she needed all the help she could get. It was entry day for the 2019 McLeod County Fair. Wichman’s cabbage weighed in at 13.2 pounds and earned a red ribbon, while the zucchini weighed 11.2 pounds and earn a blue ribbon.


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Four decades of 'Ole' Peterson at Heatwole Threshing Show

The Heatwole Threshing Show celebrated its 40th year this past weekend. While much has changed since the first show back in 1979, one thing has not — Lowell “Ole” Peterson.

For the past 40 years, Peterson and his Allis-Chalmers tractor have been part of the Heatwole Threshing Show. This year he was honored with a plaque commemorating his dedication to the show.

“It was great. I didn’t expect that,” Peterson said. “It was a great honor for me.”

“It’s really a unique accomplishment to have that same tractor here every year for 40 years,” said Heatwole Threshing Association President Corey Henke. “In the span of 40 years, people usually have another commitment they have to attend, or some years the tractor just doesn’t cooperate. You’re busy and you don’t bother with it.”

Henke’s known Lowell for the entirety of the show’s history. As an 11-year-old, he remembers seeing the Allis-Chalmers B every time he went to the show.

Peterson’s tractor is also known to returning spectators as he competes, often succesfully, each year in the 3,000-pound class tractor pull.

Peterson began showing the Allis-Chalmers during the very first Heatwole Threshing show 40 years ago.

“I live here right by Heatwole,” Peterson said. “I just started taking my tractor there. Then they started tractor pulling and I entered that. It’s a friend of mine that puts it on.”

He acquired the Allis-Chalmers tractor back when he was still farming. According to Peterson, it’s a small tractor that’s fun to have around.

“I’d use it to rake hay,” he said.

Since the time he initially bought the tractor, he hasn’t spent much money customizing it and it has largely remained the same machine.

“I just take it the way it is,” Peterson said. “It runs good. I got second in the pull (Sunday), so I did good.”


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Hutchinson Middle School adding more early intervention

Educators find positive change more likely when they intervene with struggling students as early as possible. That’s why Hutchinson Public Schools take a closer look at data collected each year, and fine-tune programs meant to offer a helping hand.

One change coming about as a result of this strategy is the addition of more intervention services at Hutchinson Middle School.

Chad Harlander, the director of the REACH program at Hutchinson High School, will visit the middle school to help students for whom behavioral intervention didn’t work.

“REACH will be a component of that,”Michael Scott, director of teaching and learning, told the School Board Monday evening. “We are incorporating that more into the middle school next year.”

REACH teaches students social and emotional life skills to overcome challenges as well as a chance to look beyond their immediate surroundings to improve their communities. It provides a safe place to receive homework help and guidance with personal issues interfering with their education.

But there are many other factors to consider, and lessons to be taken from information the school collects for its own metrics, and for reporting to state and federal agencies.

“Every piece of data is going to tell a story,” Scott said.

That process is underway this week, including an analysis of data relating to the school’s intervention services such as Alternative Delivery of Specialized Instructional Services, otherwise known as ADSIS, and the federal title programs.

ADSIS aims to help educators intervene with students before special education services.

“It is mostly staff working directly with kids,” Scott said.

The program is funded every two years with the expectation that schools submit data on its application. One major point of focus asks schools to keep track of student improvement, namely if they make a full year’s worth of advancement in the areas of reading, math and behavior.

Districtwide, 383 students received ADSIS services this past year. Of those students 320 received assistance with reading or math, 77 with behavior and 14 with both reading and math.

Of those students, 70.5 percent showed a year’s worth of improvement, though the number is a bit soft due to some students leaving the program early or being referred to special education.

“If they weren’t making progress, they would be referred to special education services and getting those services if they qualified,” Scott said.

Scott said further digging reveals the story of students who didn’t show the year’s worth of improvement and didn’t qualify for special education, but improved in other or smaller ways.

On average, the students who didn’t meet the benchmark for improvement received 34 service hours. What remains is determining how that compares to other students, and if the number of hours of service appear to matter more or less than factors that affect all students, such as attendance and focus.

One data point of note reflects specifically on interventions for behavioral issues. Of students with behavioral interventions, 66 percent showed average or above-average growth.

“Of those that didn’t, 70 percent of those ... were in high school,” Scott said. “It’s telling. That’s why we talk so much about catching students when they’re younger.”

Improvement in many intervention programs is slower at higher grade levels, he added.

Data relating to title services told a similar story, with more than 90 percent of students showing reported improvement at the earliest grade levels, while that improvement measure slowly declined to roughly 50 percent among older students.