Phase two

New preschool would free space to expand Grad Center
Posted on 08/11/2017

Phase two of the district’s long-range plan is beginning to take shape as community leaders work with Poplar Bluff school administrators to prioritize short-term needs that remain. 

Discussions are underway to construct a new Early Childhood Center on existing district property, and then relocate the Graduation Center to the vacated North Main Street building so the alternative program can be expanded.

“To me, these are the last two pieces of the puzzle that really started with the new Kindergarten Center,” said Rod Priest, R-I assistant superintendent of business. “If we’re able to complete these projects, then I feel we have provided the facilities that our students and our teachers deserve.”

Superintendent Scott Dill reported to the Board of Education on Friday, July 21, that R-I officials have been touring other area schools and meeting with the Long-Range Planning Committee since December, in hopes of presenting a recommendation for approval around mid-fall. In the meantime, a decision has been made to temporarily relocate the Graduation Center from the dilapidated Loughead Learning Center on West Maud Street to the newly freed nursing facility on the Technical Career Center property.

A levy measure, like the one the public passed in 2014, would not be necessary to complete this smaller round of building projects, according to district officials. Capital reserve funding that has been built up for such one-time expenses can be used or financing within the parameters of the existing budget would otherwise be secured.

“I’m very cognizant that this community has just come through one of the largest construction projects, if not the largest, within the history of the region,” Dill stated. “The only reason we are entertaining this possibility is because of the outstanding financial stewardship on the part of the district and the board. It’s with the understanding that this will not adversely affect the taxpayers of this district.” 

The first phase of the buildings plan added over 200,000 square feet of needed space across campus, modernizing classrooms and improving safety for students grades 1-12. Expanding the west side of the Kindergarten Center to add Early Childhood and moving the Graduation Center to the Mark Twain building was penciled in by planners as part of phase two. 

Another possibility has recently been identified, which would be to construct an Early Childhood Center on district-owned land to the south of O’Neal Elementary. Dille and Traxel Architecture is working to address traffic issues at either location. When the firm designed the Kindergarten Center off Kanell Boulevard in 2010, the Early Childhood program moved from the former Kinyon facility on Vine Street to Mark Twain as the kindergartners were relocated.

Around that same time, the district established a Graduation Center to offer credit recovery services for students falling behind grade level. Because of its success, school leaders are not only looking to expand the program for at-risk students, but to turn the center into its own school altogether for non-traditional students who are advanced learners as well, and perhaps eventually incorporate other grades in addition to secondary education. 

Long-Range Planning Committee member Dr. Martha Kirkman can recall when her daughters Addision and Olivia, now Junior High students, struggled to climb the three-story steps at Kinyon when first starting school. And even before the Early Childhood program was located there, Kirkman remembers substitute teaching preschoolers in the old Wheatley building on Garfield Street while she worked to obtain her certificate to eventually become assistant professor of business at Three Rivers College.

“Getting a facility geared toward the learning level of 3 and 4 year olds—and just physically speaking for teachers as well—so we can prepare these students from the very beginning to be excited and have a wonderful experience, many times leads to greater success,” Kirkman said. 

“On the back end, you have students who maybe are struggling to get out of bed to go to school, only to come to a building that is rundown,” she continued. “To have an opportunity to create an environment that is more inviting would hopefully turn the tide for them and reignite their desire to finish their [public] education, and ultimately come to us at college.”

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Cutline: Superintendent Scott Dill discusses with the Long-Range Planning Committee potential future uses of the Poplar Bluff Early Childhood Center on Feb. 21 during a walking tour.

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