Aspen classrooms to shrink under new plan

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Education > Reduction will shave up to $800,000 off the redesign project

By Tris DeRoma

The redesign plans of Aspen Elementary were changed recently and those design modifications were revealed in a school board meeting. The school’s trademark 1,000 square-foot classes will need to be smaller.

According to Ray Vigil, the lead architect from the firm Vigil and Associates, they were told in a recent meeting with the Public Schools Facilities Authority that they would have to reduce the size of each classroom to 850-square-feet.

Vigil told the school board the reduction would accomplish two things, bring the project back into line with the original budget, and comply with the PSFA’s standards for class size.

“By reducing a little bit of over two feet from each classroom we were able to shave off 6,000 square feet,” Vigil said. “So that little piece of everyone reducing their area gave us a large bang for our money, which helps bring us into our guaranteed maximum price as well as in compliance with the request from the Public School Facilities Authority.”

Vigil estimated the reduction will ultimately take about $600,000 to $800,000 off the cost of the project. The total price tag for the makeover project is estimated to be around $12 million.

“And that doesn’t include the operational costs you’ll be saving down the road when it comes to additional maintenance,” Vigil told the board.

The news came as a bit of a surprise to some board members, especially those who were involved in the early stages of the redesign of the school.

“The underlying theme we heard from the faculty at Aspen was that they enjoyed the large classrooms and were seeking ways of retaining that large class size,” Board member Kevin Honnell said. “Mr. Herron and others from the PSFA had told the public and this board on several occasions that if we tore down to the existing foundation that we would be able to participate fully with classrooms being reconstructed at their current size. Why is the story changing tonight at this late stage?”

PSFA Regional Manager Robert Herron responded that the PSFA recently estimated that the project was over budget by $1 million, and since the 1,000 square foot classrooms were 150 square feet over state regulations, reducing them to 850 square feet seemed like the logical step.

“The first thing that was identified with this project that was approximately $1 million over budget, was that the classroom sizes were large,” Herron said, adding that it was too costly for the district as well as the state to build on the existing foundations.

Herron also said they met with the principal and staff at Aspen and showed them that the reduction was just a matter of bringing a wall in each classroom in by just two feet.

“At that point, it began to seem like a really good idea to start picking up those savings, because it didn’t really seem to impact instruction,” Herron said.

Aspen Principal Kathryn Vandenkieboom also indicated at the meeting that she and her staff have had many discussions about the reductions in square footage, and that “the teachers are very realistic and that they understand that at this point we will not be able to afford 1,000-square-foot classrooms, and that they’re comfortable with the floor plan as it looks now.”

LAPS Superintendent Dr. Gene Schmidt also weighed in, telling the board that, “I understand the board’s concern that in the early phases of this project it really had been our intent to build on the existing footprint, but we’re going to find that meeting the cost for the budget we had set aside for this project will involve some concessions on our part. We want to do what’s best for our community, we want to stay within budget, and we want to build a quality school. I think all those things will be happening as we move forward on this project.”