The transformation from eyesore to educational door

STC establishes middle school project design within budget

A mock design of the new STC Middle School. Image provided by ISG.

While the old Iowa Girls Juvenile Home is still under demolition by the city of Toledo. The South Tama School District, alongside ISG Architecture Firm, has been working hard to prepare for the new middle school.

“As an administrator, it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This will be my second opportunity to be a part of a project like this. It’s an exciting time,” STC Superintendent John Cain said. I think specifically for this project, from the community’s perspective, being able to take the juvenile home, which was an ‘eyesore’ in Toledo, and be able to repurpose it, add an addition to it and make it a heart of the community is an exciting thing to see.”

Keeping in line with the budget

“We went into the design phase looking for what would be ideal, and when [the estimate] came in, we had to scale back,” said Superintendent Cain.

The initial design was over budget, but adjustments to design and layout helped shave $6 million off of the initial costs. Adjustments such as an asphalt parking lot instead of cement saved the school district over $100,000 on the project, opting for a flat gym roof rather than mimicking the high school’s gym dome and moving the administration to the lower level of the existing building rather than adding a suite addition.

Community members will be happy to know the middle school project team is honoring their request to keep The Wester-Leander Clark Bell. The bell will be making a new home for itself in the middle school’s green space amongst its mature barked counterparts for generations to come. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

“One of our goals on the committee is not to ask the taxpayers for more money. And being able to do this without taxing our community anymore for this project. We will continue moving forward and be able to achieve that goal,” said Superintendent Cain.

The project committee has maintained the students’ needs throughout the redesign and budgeting process.

“We did have to adjust some design choices due to the budget. A lot of spaces our students will be using, those things will be staying the same,” STC Middle School Principal Benjamin Adams said. “Maybe some small changes, like a little more industrial looking and modern, like painted ductwork, but you can make industrial tech-looking spaces that are really appealing. Our programming and spaces for our kids are very much right-sized.”

To reduce costs, the student furniture and playground equipment from the middle school and the Partnership Center will be relocated to the new school as it is only a few years old and in excellent condition.

The new middle school will also be reusing the geothermal fields.

Birdseye view of the soon-to-be-built STC Middle School. Image provided by ISG.

“We’re trying to utilize everything we have on sight to reduce the cost of the mechanical system,” said Gladys Petersen, the ISG Project Manager.

STC Buildings and Grounds Director Steve McAdoo has been looking for efficiencies wherever he can.

“I’m excited about the renovation part, getting it going. Going from an old steam boiler to the newer geo. The efficiency of the school district will be better as far as electricity and gas usage. We’ll be more efficient than we are now, even with the addition,” he said.

The current estimation is down to $33 million but has yet to go to bid.

Modern Layout for Modern Learning

Overview map of the STC Middle School project. Image provided by ISG.

As education advances into the 21st century, how classrooms operate and how a school is structured have changed too. The new middle school project will accommodate students with pods per grade level, creating an intuitive flow for students to get to the classes they need with ease.

“The way teachers are teaching students in the past versus now, we’re getting to more pods and group learning. So they’re needing a bit more of that extra space,” said Petersen.

Each pod will include four general classrooms and a science lab, along with at least one special education classroom and a small workroom for storage and meeting space for teachers.

“We’re going to have right-sized spaces for our students based on the way we do things in the 21st century now. Just excited about the opportunities our kids are going to have in these spaces that they don’t have right now,” Principal Adams said.

The special education department will be increasing from 3.5 classrooms to 5 in the new building, along with better handicap accessibility with the addition of two elevators and more individual unisex restrooms in addition to the large common-space restrooms.

Layout of STC Middle School Ground Level. Image provided by ISG.

“Prioritizing that Special Education teachers have adequate-sized classrooms is great,” said Jeanette Stacey from the middle school Special Education program.

Pull-out rooms and office spaces for visiting educational professionals are also included in the space.

“We are really gaining many more pull-out rooms and office spaces too. We have more services nowadays than ever before. When it comes to speech therapists, school-based therapists that come in and work with kids, and AA people that come to our building on a regular basis. In our current middle school, we don’t have spaces for them. In this building we’re going to so we’re not going to be sharing offices. We’re going to have spaces available for those that come in,” said Principal Adams.

The new media center will span two stories. The first level is going to be a 21st-century media center. The second level will be a media classroom space with library resources available and a meeting space for tag students.

Additional space for exceptional activities

Layout of STC Middle School Main Level. Image provided by ISG.

The new middle school will be repurposing the existing main structure and adding an addition that will accommodate a gym that will be able to seat 600 people, a fitness center, and a cafeteria, which are larger than the current middle school’s facilities.

“We’re very excited about the new kitchen and commons area. If you’ve ever been to the old middle school, we have a very, very small cafeteria. We squeeze the kids into a classroom-sized space for lunch. So our space here is going to be much better for kids, giving them space to spread out,” Adams said.

The addition will also include a separate band and choir room plus an ensemble room to help accommodate the musical arts schedule.

“We’re passionate about our musical arts programs. Having two rooms gives us flexibility with the scheduling. When you share one room, you’re really limited. We serve 5th through 8th grade providing general music classes along with band and choir classes. Having three music teachers teaching out of one space, trying to find time, and scheduling issues with no place to do small groups while classes are going is difficult. This will give us an opportunity to open up our music program and meet the needs of the kids, giving them more access to things,” Adams said.

The existing space is estimated at 56,659 square feet. With the new addition, the space will increase to 88,000 square feet.

Layout of STC Middle School's 2nd Level. Image provided by ISG.

Safety for students

The most important issue for all those involved in the project was student safety.

Center Street will become a one-way to accommodate student drop off and pick up. The bus traffic has been separated as well as the truck drop-off zone moving away from the students’ play area.

A storm shelter is being constructed on the ground floor of the new addition, including the locker rooms, fitness area, and kitchen space. They will have heftier structural space with extra reinforcement and emergency exits to the south. This space will operate on a separate electrical grid, with a separate foundation and plumbing to keep students safe in case of emergencies. This expense wasn’t originally accounted for in the budget, but due to the derecho in 2020, it was an investment the committee deemed necessary for student safety.

The middle school project will go to bid in May of 2023, with the project estimated to finish in May 2025.