The group of Briarwood Elementary parents who began raising concerns last month about the prospect of the gymnasium they had helped raise $75,000 to build nine years ago being torn down as part of the rebuilding of the school next year got a glimpse of the district’s thought process on the project Thursday.
Dr. Kenny Southwick was joined by several district officials at a meeting with nine Briarwood mothers, where architects from Hollis + Miller walked the group through three prospective approaches to the rebuilding effort.
Southwick started the meeting by acknowledging explicitly that he had told the group of parents attending a session on the proposed bond issue to pay for the reconstruction of the school that the district would keep the gym intact and build the rest of the building around it. However, he said, as the district and architects got further into the design process, they saw the possibility of gaining several advantages by removing the gym.
“There was in no interest in trying to mislead this community,” Southwick said of his statements to the Briarwood parents that night. “I said what I said because I believed that to be true. But this process has led us to think that we at least need to consider [other] options.”
Jeff Schutzler, the lead architect on the project and a Briarwood parent, walked the attending mothers through three possible design scenarios. He said that the design team was working to balance a number of factors, among them: flow of the students between academic areas and public spaces, safety and security issues like storm shelters and emergency vehicle access, keeping playground areas sequestered from the general public, and keeping traffic flowing around the school, particularly during drop off and pick up times.
“The city of Prairie Village has taken a lot of interest in this project,” Schutzler said. “They want to get more cars off the street.”
The three options Schutzler discussed were:
- Maintaining the current gym, and building the academic wing and public spaces areas back from it.
- Maintaining the shell of the existing gym, but repurposing the space to become the cafeteria and food service area. Schutzler said many of the current gym fixtures, including the bleachers that parent fundraising effort paid for a decade ago, could be repurposed in a new gym facility. It was possible that some of the wood gym floor that was also paid for with community-raised funds could be repurposed in the new gym, though Schutzler said it may pose challenges.
- Razing the current gym structure and fully replacing the entire school building. The primary advantage of this option would be that it would allow the designers to plan for an expanded traffic loop that would be able to accommodate 100 parked cars and 61 stacked cars in the pick up loop. Currently, Briarwood can accommodate 87 parked cars and 35 stacked cars. Complete rebuild would also allow them to improve emergency vehicle access and keep all of the playgroup areas tucked behind the building.
District officials will be holding larger community input sessions on the project in the coming weeks.