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Grand Island Public Schools board tours Principal building Thursday

Grand Island Public Schools board tours Principal building Thursday

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A former work space will be transformed into a learning space.

At its December 2020 meeting, the Grand Island Public Schools Board of Education voted to approve an agreement to buy the former Principal building, 3025 College St., thanks to a seven-year, $3 million lease purchase with no interest. The building became vacant following a move by Principal in June 2020 to keep its staff permanently working from home.

Superintendent Tawana Grover said the former Principal building’s location and the price made it appealing to GIPS.

“It is very close to a current elementary school. It is right across from our new Early Learning Center and right down the street from our high school,” she said. “So this really just becomes another part of our portfolio that allows us to prepare students for their future. I think we have been very forward thinking as a district. We know that we are a growing district and that our community continues to grow. When we can partner with our business associates and we can acquire this type of space, it just allows us to be even more prepared for the future needs that are in front of us.”

On Thursday evening, the GIPS board toured the building along with members of the local media.

Board President Bonnie Hinkle said the purpose of the tour was to ensure all board members understood what the building looked like so they could discuss how to use its space and what may need to be reconfigured. She emphasized that, while numerous ideas have been tossed around in the Grand Island community, no final decision has been made on what the building will be used for.

Hinkle said that, as a board member, she has a number of ideas of how GIPS could best use the building.

“It is just exciting to know that we have space now — especially for the high school — without having to go to build another high school because we know how expensive that is,” she said. “We do not know for sure, but it looks like it is going to be something that helps us with our high school building. But there are so many possibilities and ideas, so it is just going to be fun to see us work through. When we start bringing in the community through the town halls, we might get some ideas we had never even thought of. So while we talk about the high school, we are very open to anything that the district needs.”

Dan Petsch, director of Buildings and Grounds, said that, as “the facilities guy,” the building should be used as a satellite location for Grand Island Senior High due to the space needs there.

“We have been able to get by with having Career Pathways Institute and the Wyandotte Learning Center, so we are not at a maximum again like we were at one point,” he said. “But as time goes, we are still going to keep on growing and the need is still going to be there.”

During the building tour Thursday evening, Hinkle provided some input on the building’s amenities, as she worked there for 37 years. She said the building has accumulated a lot of space and a number of conference rooms that would be beneficial to GIPS.

During the tour, Hinkle and Petsch said the building has an equipped fitness center along with cafeteria space.

“We have to make that final decision, but it (fitness center) is ours to decide what to do with,” Hinkle said. “Principal was very generous in the things it left behind, so now we just have to decide what the best purpose is and where some of these things can go.”

GISH senior Kendall Bartling, who serves as the student board representative, participated in the tour. He said even though he was a senior and would not use the facility, he was excited about its potential.

“As I think about my day-to-day routine at GISH, it is a great building and has worked well for many years, but I think it is getting of age and is getting dated,” Bartling said. “So walking in here, seeing the potential for classrooms, the light and the modern style of the building, it is really promising. Even though it is such a tiny thing, I think that boosts the mood of kids coming into the building. It is nicely fresh and feels new.

“It makes me super excited for the kids to think that they will be coming here in this new environment and this fresh space. That is definitely going to make it a lot better for them.”

Bartling said having the Principal building potentially house one or more of the GISH Academies will allow for better student parking and make the main GISH campus less crowded.

“We saw that with the academies when people started going to Wyandotte (Learning Center) and CPI as the hallways were less crowded,” he said. “Hopefully, we get to the point where the 200 wing at GISH is not a crazy intersection.”

Grover said GIPS has yet to decide the timeframe for filling the former Principal building. She said it has started master facilities planning meetings with constituents, and has talked with key communicators and its parent advisory groups to gather ideas.

“Right now, we are just collecting ideas and asking people what they see as the facility needs within GIPS,” Grover said. “Also, if they could decide or help us design this space, how do they feel it could be best used? When we go out to our constituents and we understand and gain their feedback, it allows us to consider the different facets of needs and ideas that are out there. It also allows us to design a more strategic approach to serving our students.”

Hinkle said the board wants to host virtual town halls soon.

“We might be able to do some of that virtually, but it would be nice to do some of them in person. I think that we have to decide at what point we think it is safe and, if we have to do it virtually, how we can make it interactive and that people participate.”

Hinkle said that, while she was sad to pack up her things at Principal when the company moved its employees to remote work, she is happy to see it being used to educate kids.

“Knowing it is going to be used for kids makes it so much easier,” she said. “From a coworker standpoint, we had a lot of joy, so now the kids will too.”

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