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GRAND MOUND, Iowa — These days Grand Mound Elementary School consists of 35 kindergarten and first-grade students who occupy two classrooms, a gymnasium and a cafeteria.

"Two classrooms hardly provide a real school atmosphere," said Welton/Grand Mound Principal Ruth Ann Tobey-Brown.

Because there's little left of the original Grand Mound school, the lunch room also serves as a school office, copy room, sick bay, reading and speech therapy classroom and teachers' lounge.

"Someone could be finishing their breakfast while others could be starting their reading, taking speech and talking on the phone, all at the same time," Tobey-Brown said.

Conditions will change if Central Community School District voters approve a $12.89 million bond referendum March 13 that would close the district's old elementary buildings in Grand Mound and Welton and expand Ekstrand Elementary School, putting all Central elementary students in DeWitt.

In Welton, the school is a collection of three buildings: the main school, two modular classrooms and the separate teachers' lounge/art room, which is surrounded by sandbags to keep melting snow and ice from flooding through the door.

Several teachers travel back and forth between Welton and Grand Mound, while Grand Mound students are regularly bused to Welton to use the third-floor media center, computer lab and library.

"You know they need to be in the classroom, but they also need to experience the things of a normal elementary," Tobey-Brown said. "They need to know what it's like to check out a library book."

Designs for the bond issue were the result of meetings between staff members and architect Merle Rambo. The proposal includes renovating and expanding Ekstrand to house kindergarten through second grade, minor adjustments to the existing middle school where the upper elementary — third through fifth grades — would attend. The middle school would move to the existing high school, which would be updated, and a new high school would be constructed southeast of the football field.

By separating the elementary levels, the layout lends itself to team teaching and planning, Ekstrand Principal Linda Reysack said. "By having all students together, we know the same curriculum is being taught and the same resources are available."

Teachers could plan lessons together and "it allows every student the same opportunities and exposure to curriculum and facilities," Reysack said.

There is little equality between Ekstrand, Grand Mound and Welton elementary facilities.

Ekstrand is completely handicapped accessible whereas at Welton, "we have a handicapped restroom, but they couldn't even come into my office," Tobey-Brown said about the handicapped accessibility of the 80-year-old school. "As far as state-of-the-art, we don't have any of that."

Some district residents have complained that Central officials allowed Grand Mound and Welton to deteriorate.

"I don't think that's an issue," Tobey-Brown said of maintenance during her eight-year tenure. "If I've had a roof that was falling or bricks needed replacing, it's been done."

The original portion of the Grand Mound school, built in 1917, was closed in 1995 because of roof and other structural problems and was demolished two years ago. "The part that was demolished was completely unusable and unsafe." Jan Culbertson, Central business manager, said.

An early plan to house the upper elementary grades at Welton was abandoned because of the age of the building, the difficulty in updating a multi-level structure and stairwells being too narrow to be outfitted with chair lifts.

Providing each class its own space

The new plan allows for smaller class sizes, larger classroom space, less congestion and better facilities district-wide, Reysack said.

Ekstrand houses 410 students, but has had as many as 450. The proposed K-2 enrollment is 280 while the upper elementary could be as large as 350 students. The present middle school, which has housed as many as 420 students, is only 10 years old, so little would need to be done for it to become an upper elementary.

Minor renovations would be done to Ekstrand. A 2,300-square-foot addition off the east side would provide music and physical education classrooms. A multipurpose room for a cafeteria and site for music concerts would free up the present cafeteria to serve as a gymnasium. Art would be moved into a larger area in the addition with built-in storage for more projects and a kiln.

The expansion would separate early learning education, which shares a space with special education. Administrative offices would be moved to the front entrance to help control access to the building by visitors.

"The first thing they'd see is the office, and they'd have to step into the office," Reysack said.

The addition would allow for the start of a special pre-kindergarten program for 15-20 students identified as special education developmentally delayed.

DeWitt address doesn't ensure Ekstrand attendance

This plan would also end the phone calls Reysack, Tobey-Brown and other administrators receive each fall from parents wanting their children to attend Ekstrand.

Living in DeWitt has not guaranteed a family's children will attend Ekstrand. Some DeWitt children are bused to Grand Mound and Welton.

"I have parents who, when we say your child has been assigned to another building, threaten, beg, do anything they can to get them reassigned to Ekstrand," Reysack said. Some even contact lawyers.

"I think they see this as a better facility for their children," she said.

"It's difficult, but once they're here, they love it, so you know there's good education going on here," Tobey-Brown said of Welton and Grand Mound.

She sympathizes with parents. "They bought the house there in DeWitt and they envisioned their child walking to school."

While arguments have been made for building a new elementary school and keeping the rest of the facilities as they are, "the plan that we have solves a district-wide problem," Reysack said. "It addresses not only problems we have in the elementary, but for all students, K-12."

It's more than just a new high school — all of the buildings, Ekstrand, the middle school and the high school will be transformed. "Every building's going to be like a butterfly and evolve," Tobey-Brown said.

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