Hales Corners Elementary school is 'bursting at the seams'

submitted photo
The Whitnall School Board is weighing options to increase space inside Hales Corners Elementary.
Published on: 8/20/2014

Hales Corners — The Whitnall School Board is weighing different options to increase space at Hales Corners Elementary, the oldest school in the district.

HCE, 11319 W. Godsell Ave., was built in 1948 and houses 570 students. It has undergone additions and renovations in 1954, 1957 and 1993.

But with increasing class sizes, maintenance issues and spaces that do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the district agrees more needs to be done.

'A common theme in this building is no space. We're bursting at the seams,' said Matt Karshna, building and grounds manger, during a public tour of the elementary school with school board members.

The school board toured the building to learn exactly what the needs are before vetting five different space-creating proposals, which range from small-scale renovations to a full teardown project. Another option is to create an addition onto Whitnall Middle School where students can go.

Project proposals range in price from $9.3 to $15.6 million. Building a new elementary school to replace HCE would cost $17.5 million.

HCE is one of three large-scale projects on the school board's radar. The other two include replacing Whitnall High School's boilers, increasing its swimming pool depth and possibly creating a weight room there.

A new pool and weight room would cost up to $5 million. New boilers would cost about $2.2 million, said school board President LuAnn Bird.

Problem areas

During the tour, Karshna and HCE Principal Lori Komas identified significant problem areas in the building.

Classrooms lack efficient cabinet and storage space and are reportedly too small for increasing class sizes and desks, which are typically arranged in small groups, especially at the kindergarten level.

Karshna said the ideal classroom size would be between 1,100 and 1,200 square feet, or 1,500 square feet for kindergartners. The average classroom is about 800 square feet.

Only the west side of the building has air conditioning (the half renovated in 1993). Superintendent Lowell Holtz said bathroom doors are kept open 99 percent of the time because of heat.

Outdoor stairs are not wheelchair accessible from the playground, and the blacktop there is uneven from all of the on-site renovations. There are also bathrooms doorways that do not meet ADA standards.

Another concern, Karshna said, are some of the building's open-facing windows, which are a safety hazard for children.

'We keep the windows closed specifically for that reason,' he said.

Bird said the fact that Whitnall School District has no debt makes it well-positioned to afford upgrades.

'It's a matter of timing,' she said. 'The question the board will be asking is how can we address all of the facility's needs. We want to hear from our community: What makes the most fiscal sense? That's critical to us.'

A common theme throughout all five proposals includes moving the school's entrance to the building's south side and creating a bus lane on West Godsell Ave.

In September, the finance committee will examine the five different proposals on the table and provide the school board with a recommendation. The school board hopes to present the community with a renovation option by October or November.