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Beasley site recommended for early childhood center

Proposition P Oversight Committee members recently agreed to recommend the Beasley Elementary School property to the Board of Education as the site of a new early childhood center — not the site originally envisioned for the center in the facilities master plan originally accepted by the board in August 2000.

Oversight Committee Chairman Chuck Van Gronigen was scheduled to report the panel's recommendation to the Board of Education Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

Consideration of the early childhood center's location also was on the board's agenda that night.

Voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase. However, the Board of Education last September adopted a revised Proposition P budget totaling more than $86.7 million.

In formulating a facilities master plan in 2000, the district's Citizens' Advisory Committee for Facilities recommended that St. John's Elementary School be razed and a new early childhood center be constructed on the Will Avenue site. But administrators in November approached the Oversight Committee, informing members of budgetary, site-development, access, safety and aesthetic concerns regarding the St. John's site. Administrators provided committee members with three alternatives to building the early childhood center at St. John's — which would total $470,000 of the building's $2.636 million construction budget.

They suggested that the district could purchase additional land, construct the center on the Mehlville Senior High School campus in Lemay — costing the district $1.275 million for site development — or construct the center on the Beasley Elementary School campus in Oakville — costing the district $365,000 for site development.

Before making a recommendation in November, committee members asked administrators to seek public input during a community forum. About 60 people attended an informational meeting two weeks ago on the four alternatives. Comment sheets submitted by those who attended the meeting revealed an overwhelming preference for the Beasley site, South Area Superintendent Keith Klusmeyer reported to committee members.

Oversight Committee member Dave Genthon asked Kathie Fuchs, the director of early childhood education, during the Feb. 18 committee meeting about her preference.

"I think from a budget point of view, we're all going down the same one path," Genthon told Fuchs, referring to Beasley. "Where is your preferred site?"

She told committee members, "Well, looking at it in terms of curriculum and what we want to offer the families in our community, the site that really makes the most sense, to us, is the Beasley site. You know just, in terms of what we were talking about before, the space, the outdoor space around it. The St. John's site ... there's no room over there for outdoor play, which is really important for our little ones. There's no room for expansion. We wanted this to be a place that families can come to with parents and teachers. We want to have lots of parking. We want to just make sure there's room.

"And that's pretty limited across the street," she added. The Oversight Committee meeting took place at the district's Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.

Of the choices presented to her and the committee, Fuchs said that she and the early childhood staff believe Beasley does have all of those amenities and would serve as the best site for a new early childhood center.

Committee Vice Chairman Tom Correnti, referring to a comment from the informational meeting, asked if transportation would be more difficult at the Beasley site, especially for voluntary transfer students.

"There's a perception that it is way out in no-man's land," Klusmeyer said, noting that Beasley easily is reached by taking Interstate 255 and Koch Road.

Dwight Dickinson of Dickinson Hussman Architects, the Proposition P architectural firm, added, "I think it's got the best access of any of the sites in the district."

Van Gronigen requested that, at a future date, the committee be informed of or be involved with what happens to the St. John's site and the Witzel Learning Center.

Committee members unanimously supported a recommendation for the Beasley site.

Superintendent Tim Ricker told the Call he was pleased with the committee's decision to recommend Beasley to the Board of Education as the site of the district's new early childhood center — the last Proposition P project.

"I'm all for it," Ricker said of the Oversight Committee's decision to recommend Beasley. "The community had an opportunity to go through and look at it ... the early childhood staff and parents, a relatively vast majority of them think that's a good site. The other thing I like about it is the location, connected to an elementary school. That's very valuable ... I like it because we own the land, and didn't have to purchase land because we really don't have the finances to do that right now. All in all I think it was a good decision, a good recommendation. I think if we had tried to do it any other way, then it would not have been well-received.''

Though concerns about the site were reported to the Oversight Committee Nov. 25, the Board of Education already had voted in closed session Nov. 17 to begin negotiations with the Lechner Realty Group for a listing agreement for the St. John's site. During a Dec. 15 closed session, the board voted to approve a 90-day exclusive listing contract with Lechner Realty for the St. John's site.

"It's up for sale," Ricker said of the outcome of the St. John's site if board members approve Beasley as the location of the new early childhood center. "We're listing it. Our broker is just entertaining any kind of offers and he's marketing it. Right now we are just waiting to see what possibilities there'll be for it."

Asked if district officials are considering the sale of the St. John's property to help alleviate help cash-flow problems in the Proposition P budget, Ricker responded, "No. No, they just knew that if we were going to do anything with that, you had to spend money on it. If you keep that building you have to do something with the asbestos and lead paint ... so, the board will always have the option to use those funds within limitations on what to do with it if they would happen to sell it. The board has never really committed to what they would do with that money because they haven't had an offer that they've settled on ...''

Under state law, any funds gained by the sale of district property, such as the St. John's site, would have to go into the district's incidental or general fund. Nothing would stop the board, however, from transferring those funds from the general fund into the Proposition P budget, according to Ricker. It is up to board members to decide if they wish to sell St. John's and use the additional money in the Proposition P budget, Ricker said.

"I think that they would consider that," he said. "Because I think it's a sound, prudent, frugal budgetary strategy."

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