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Architect tours Deerfield middle-high school to help prepare for referendum effort

The now expanded community group tasked with input for pre-referendum work for Deerfield Community School met with the hired architectural firm and construction manager for the first time June 29.

Their work now includes whittling through various options of how to use the district’s buildings to meet the district’s evolving needs to find the best combinations of renovations and new construction to present to the public. As the previous referendum’s debt – a $12 million effort to erect the current elementary school – falls off, now likely is the best time to ask constituents for the necessary funds, superintendent Michelle Jensen said.

During a tour of the middle-high school with the 16-member group and Bray Architects, Jensen highlighted the conglomerate of additions and remodels that make up the building. Since its original construction in 1966, the building has been added on to four different times.

“As we walk through, in our tour, you’ll find out this is kind of like an archaeology tour, everything is based on the date of the walls or the carpet,” Jensen said.

Now, the building is due for $7.7 million worth of updates, according to a 2020 building study. Down the road, the now nearly 20-year-old elementary school is facing capacity issues as the district creates new classroom space in its basement to accommodate all of its students.

When the elementary school building was built in 2004, it was designed to serve not only elementary students, but also sixth-grade students to alleviate some of the population crunch at the middle-high school level. But, with the addition of an in-school 4-K program, the elementary school has reached capacity, Jensen said.

“When the building was built, we only had kindergarten classrooms, we had early childhood, but we didn’t have a 4 year old kindergarten program,” Jensen said. “We planned for 5-year-old kindergarten, but we started a 4 year old kindergarten program across the state in about 2008-2009.”

While nearby districts, such as Monona Grove, have their 4-K program completely based in the community, this is not possible for Deerfield, Jensen explained. While the district did partner with one community day care service, Holland’s Hearts and Hands, there were not enough providers to serve the community’s population without an in-school program.

This need for additional space could be exacerbated by the potential of full day 4-K programs, something Jensen said was a real possibility, and would require double the rooms the program is already using in the elementary school.

While the initial meeting served as an introduction for the now 16 member-committee’s 10 newest members, the group already found a key issue that would shape the rest of their discourse: how the district’s grade configuration could be altered to make the most out of any possible referendum work.

“We may be in a position to do a major project with the middle-high school,” Bray president Matthew Wolfert said. “But, we have space challenges at the elementary school. So, that’s why we’re already having reconfiguration conversations. What is the right solution for the next 20 years, or however long it takes until the next major space crunch happens in Deerfield?”