Feasibility Study: Spring 2014
The Facilities Master Plan approved by the Board of Education in 2011 identified the district’s high school as the facility most in need of improvement. Therefore, in the spring of 2014, the Board of Education commissioned Mackey Mitchell Architects to conduct a thorough analysis of the current Ladue Horton Watkins High School (LHWHS) facility to determine the specific strengths and weaknesses of the existing building from both structural and educational standpoints. The study also addressed the logistics and broad financial implications of updating and renovating the high school.
Researching and analyzing the potential and purpose of truly functional space was critical when considering the classrooms in the current building have not been significantly renovated since they were built. The nucleus of the current building was constructed in 1952 and, like many educational facilities in the country, required swift and significant expansion as a result of the “baby boom” between 1946 and 1964.
Mackey Mitchell began this comprehensive study by meeting with 14 individual stakeholder groups to identify the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the current high school facility. Mackey Mitchell then performed a series of building analyses, including a historical analysis of how the building’s current layout evolved.
In addition, the following were examined:
Availability of Space Compatible with Current Teaching Models
- The current building lacks appropriate spaces for students to have breakout sessions and collaborate with fellow students and teachers.
- STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) programming requires cross-discipline teaching and learning, as well as space for students to test and apply their knowledge. These types of flexible, adaptive learning spaces, such as those conducive to robotics, are currently not available.
Efficacy of Space Used for Teaching and Learning
- Given the way the building was expanded in past renovations, classrooms were often added wherever they could be, not where they made the most sense academically. (For instance, science rooms are scattered throughout the building.)
- Also as a result of the way the building has been expanded, “way finding” is not intuitive, or logical, and can be difficult for new students, parents and visitors.
- The building is structured around most teachers having their “own room.” Therefore, whenever a teacher has a smaller class, is using time for planning with no students in attendance, or is using a lab or library for a lesson, valuable classroom space is underutilized.
Other than minor additions and system updates, the original structure has not been significantly renovated since it was built in 1952. This, in addition to the “patchwork” nature in which expansions have been achieved, has created space and operational cost inefficiencies.
With a single remotely-located elevator, the existing building is challenging for those not fully mobile. Some classrooms, restrooms and gathering areas are not accessible at all to students and staff using wheelchairs or crutches.
Constrained Buildable Land
Floodways, site geometry and easements significantly reduce the area on which facilities can be built.
Due to the age of the majority of the building, only the very newest structures meet current seismic safety standards.
Findings Analysis and Identifying Additional Expertise: Fall 2014
Beginning in the fall of 2014, the district’s Finance and Facilities Board Advisory Committees were utilized to study the findings of the report and to begin identifying the expertise required to put more definition around potential solutions. (Board Advisory Committees are comprised primarily of district patrons with expertise in specific areas. Their charge is to study specific projects and provide assistance to the Board of Education.)
To more accurately identify the components, considerations and challenges of a high school renovation, the committees issued requests for proposals from construction management companies and financial advisors, and requests for qualifications for architectural services firms. Criteria for selection not only required that these firms have considerable knowledge in their areas of expertise, extensive experience and solid reputations for quality work, but that they also be adept at working effectively and creatively together.
Selection of Partners to Provide Additional Analysis: December 2014
On Dec. 8, 2014, the Board of Education approved the district’s recommendations to partner with the following local firms:
- For architectural services, the district selected two companies: Hastings & Chivetta will be the Architect of Record and Bond Architects will be the Design Associate Architect.
- For construction management services, the district selected S.M. Wilson, a company that has successfully provided “on time and within budget” construction management services to the district in the past.
- For financial advisor services, the district selected Sentry Financial Services, an experienced advisor the district has relied on over the past few years for financial advice and cost savings.
For more information on the district’s partners, click here.
High School Teachers Engaged: October – December 2014
At the same time as these groups of experts were being identified, analyzed and selected, another group was meeting weekly to discuss the potential project from a different standpoint. Over the course of seven weeks, 23 high school teachers, high school administrators and the district’s curriculum coordinators met to discuss instructional best practices and the environments that would best support those practices. As the ones who best understand the limitations of the current facility from a practical standpoint, the group was asked to think about the future experiences, programming, and instructional needs of high school students, and then describe the types of spaces that would allow for that learning to occur.
Webster Groves School District’s Superintendent Dr. Sarah Riss and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction John Simpson facilitated these conversations amongst the high school’s Leadership Team members (department chairs) and other teachers leading specific specialty programs, such as performing and fine arts, broadcast technology, engineering programs and robotics.
Development of Broad Concepts: January – March 2015
Immediately upon their appointment, a design team comprised of representatives from the selected architectural and construction management services firms began studying the findings of the research completed to date.
Over the course of the next few months, the design team…
- Conducted a thorough examination of the existing facility and surrounding campus to identify the extent of renovation/rebuild required of various areas.
- Met with the Board of Education, administrators, the Facilities and Finance Board Advisory Committees, the High School Development Committee and students to gather additional information and ask specific questions about the existing facility, and the characteristics that would be desirable and valuable in a future facility.
- Began preliminary design work to determine potential building configurations given existing site restraints and the need to continue to use the site during the course of renovation.
On March 9, 2015, initial concepts were presented to the Board of Education for the purposes of beginning to identify and prioritize desirable facility characteristics.
Community Engagement: March – May 2015
As the Board of Education continued to consider the initial concepts developed, administrators began to gather input from the community regarding the concepts and potential costs through a series of presentations and tours of the existing high school facility. At the same time, the design team met with high school departments and specialized staff to discuss the facility features that would best enhance instruction.
Concept Refinement: Summer 2015
The information gathered during the initial Community Engagement period assisted the design team in narrowing to a single, more refined concept which was reviewed by district and high school administrators during the summer of 2015 while the construction management firm began to estimate more specific costs.
Community Engagement: August – October 2015
By the time the 2015-16 school year began in August, the concept had been refined to the single design reflected in the Building Concepts section of this website, and the potential cost of the project had been narrowed, as detailed in the Funding section of this website. Throughout the fall, over 20 opportunities were provided for community members to hear directly from the superintendent about the need for a high school renovation. All residents of the district were mailed invitations to attend one of two Community Forums, and the high school was open every night for a week for visitors to tour the facility.
Community Survey: October – November 2015
Beginning on Oct. 23, 2015, Patron Insights, LLC, a Kansas City-based market research organization, began a comprehensive telephone survey with the purpose of determining Ladue School District residents’ satisfaction with the district, as well as their thoughts about, and support for, a potential high school renovation. Calls were placed to both cell phones and landlines until 600 randomly-selected district residents, representing a cross-section of the Ladue Schools community, had been interviewed. The results were presented at the Nov. 23, 2015 Board of Education meeting. View the full presentation.
Overview of the survey and findings:
- Respondents were asked to grade (A-F) their overall satisfaction with the district, in addition to grading the district on 14 specific items. These grades were then converted to a five-point scale. The district received grades of four or above on every item, including overall satisfaction. The presenter from Patron Insight, Mr. Ken DeSieghardt, shared that results this positive are very rare for school districts.
- After receiving information about the high school renovation project, those interviewed were then asked about their likelihood to vote in favor of the project if certain components were included. The highest-ranking component was improvements to technology, with the lowest-ranking feature being improvements to athletic fields.
- Prior to any discussion of project costs, respondents were then asked if they would be likely to vote for a project which included the components just discussed if an election were held today. Approximately 75% of respondents indicated they would be “strongly in favor” or “in favor” of such a project.
- Respondents were then asked if they would be likely to vote for a project which included the components discussed given three levels of project costs which were put in terms of the increase in property tax on a yearly and monthly basis for a home valued at $500,000. (This is the approximately average value of a home in the Ladue School District.) As anticipated, and following a typical pattern in surveys constructed in this manner, support for the project decreased. Following are the costs presented and the percent of respondents who indicated they would be “strongly in favor” or “in favor.” (Given the sample size a margin of error of approximately 5% is assumed.)
- $432/yr – $35/mo: 56%
- $360/yr – $30/mo: 58%
- $288/yr – $24/mo: 60%
- The survey concluded by asking respondents about their sources of information about the Ladue School District and the collection of various demographic information.
Board Decision and Further Concept Refinement
On Dec. 14, 2015, the Ladue Schools Board of Education unanimously voted in favor of placing an $85.1 million bond referendum on the April 5, 2016 ballot with the primary purpose of renovating the district’s high school. Meanwhile, the design team continued to refine the concept and do preliminary work in preparation for beginning work in the summer of 2016, in anticipation of the bond referendum passing.
Proposition R Passes with 64% Voter Approval
On April 5, 2016, voters in the Ladue School District approved Proposition R, an $85.1 million bond referendum with the primary purpose of significantly renovating the district’s single high school.