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New Austin school steering committee brainstorms design ideas

Sixty-four members of the Austin Public Schools building steering committee are in a unique role that few people get to experience: help create the ideas for designing a new intermediate school building for fifth- and sixth-graders.

Mark Stotts, finance and operations director, describes the work in progress as the "fun stuff."

"It's a pretty exciting process," Stotts said.

The committee, which met for its second meeting Wednesday at the Hormel Historic Home, are being guided by ATS&R Planners/Architects/Engineers in Minneapolis .

The building will have a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) focus for 884 students and will be 112,250 square feet. The school will be just east of Ellis Middle School. Construction dollars for the school were included in the $28.9 million bond issue voters approved last month.

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Those are the basics that will help guide the committee during its brainstorming. They offered ideas in response to their homework from the initial meeting: What is important about your new school?

Ideas flow

Cheryl Dunlap, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Ellis, had ideas for materials that would be used and brought up having sensory lights and automatic-flush toilets. It will also be important that the school prepare students for Ellis, she said.

Austin High School Assistant Principal Katie Baskin talked with ninth-graders, and they mentioned that it's helpful to have most of their classes in proximity of each other.

"Being respectful of students' time and space," Baskin said.

Discussion also went toward the question, "what is it?" in regard to the identity of the building and its design. There were also lots of questions and areas to explore about the school dealing with learning, environment, the site, safety/security, maintenance, future planning and materials.

"These are all very important categories that are going to help shape this building," said David Maroney, of ATS&R.

Discussing options

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The committee broke into small groups to discuss six building models.

Models had two- or three-story options and classrooms arranged in four or six teams. Some of the group feedback voiced concern over a three-story building in that part of town, but there was some support for the six-team classroom idea.

All of this remains in the preliminary stages of design. The school probably won't be exactly like one of these six concepts, Maroney said.

"We have to start somewhere," Maroney said. "We're starting to juggle everything now. This is the fun work."

Members of the committee had the chance to sign up to be part of five focus groups to delve deeper into the details. These meetings will be separate from the steering committee meetings, but members were encouraged to have some of their district colleagues join the focus groups.

Focus groups are divided into similar areas: administration/student services/transportation, P.E./athletics, classrooms/math/science/special education, art/music/technology education/cafe and media center/technology.

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