District renovations to begin in 2018

Ashton Nichols | Staff Writer

The Mason City School District will be getting a makeover in 2018.

The largest part of the renovations will be at Mason Middle School, which was originally built in 1959 and used as Mason High School. Students will not be able to stay in the middle school during the construction period – technology upgrades will occur, the cafeteria will be relocated and expanded, new finishings will be added, and building access and security will be updated, along with roof replacement and a parking lot upgrade.

Two plans could occur: the eighth grade class of 2020 will be divided with some attending Western Row, while others move to the high school. This is while construction takes place at the middle school during 2018-2019.

The second plan would be to hold off a year and transition the middle school during 2019-2020, still dividing the eighth graders. If the plan of waiting a year takes place, Western Row will remain vacant during the 2018-2019 school year. Current sixth graders will be affected if the district chooses no pause year; current fifth graders if the pause year is taken. Either way, seventh graders will attend Western Row. Once all renovations have taken place by 2020 or 2021, Western Row will close.

Beginning the summer of 2017, renovations to the Mason Early Childhood Center will begin. These include adding 12 new classrooms, renovating the gym, cafeteria and adding office and small group spaces. While second graders are currently split between MECC and Western Row, all pre-k through second grade students will move to MECC after these renovations.

Mason Intermediate will also undergo renovations, and will begin to house students grades third through sixth. Traffic circulation will updated, along with adding a playground, specialized office spaces, and additional parking.

The Mason City School District saved $700,000 a year by closing Mason Heights in 2012. The class sizes of Mason are shrinking, with the class of 2018 having a class size of 920, compared to the class of 2030 with only 690 students.

The total cost of the project is $42.2 million, but the district will receive $33.7 million from the state of Ohio. According to superintendent Gail Kist-Kline, $8.5 million will be needed for the renovations, but no new tax levy will be required.

Mason Middle School Assistant Principal Mark Murzynowski said administration will need to look at how the eighth graders will be distributed, and who will be moved to what location.

“We have to be very careful about it, so we minimize anything going to affect each individual student, so the change is going to be as little as possible for them,” Murzynowski said. “We’ve got to lend an ear, and look at options, because there are some individuals who are ready to come to the high school in eighth grade, even seventh grade, where there are some who need the smaller location and environment.”

About a quarter of MMS teachers will go to the high school, with the rest relocated to Western Row. Murzynowski said administration would like to integrate the eighth grade students at the high school into high school classes such as Band, Orchestra, Chorus, or Health.

“We’re going to be trying to get (the eighth graders) into a pod, maybe even a floor,” Murzynowski said. “These are all preliminary things.”

Community parent Monique Mattingley has children who will be affected by the upcoming changes. Mattingley said although these are large changes, she believes Mason has planned well.

“It was very informative to see how the operating budget and the other budget were two different things,” Mattingley said. “It is good to see Mason has planned ahead and their facilities have already planned for improvements.”

A Mason City Schools Town Hall was held on March 15 to address the community about the upcoming changes, and for community members to provide feedback. Mattingley said the reason she came to the town hall was to have her concerns addressed and answered.

“I have felt in the past that Mason is huge,” Mattingley said. “Sometimes students can get lost because it’s so big. One of the reductions (the middle school) did was get rid of teams. I had two kids go through who had the teams, and now I have a daughter who is going through who does not have them, and I saw what that did to her schedule. It meant she hopped all over the school. Some of the concerns I have are making sure the district is looking at some of those logistical issues with having such a huge school and trying to make it not feel like a huge school.”

Community member John Meyer said his kids have graduated from the Mason School District, yet he believes there are still issues not yet worked out with the upcoming changes.

“I don’t think it will affect our community one way or another,” Meyer said. “One of the things I am not fully understanding is that we have closed two schools –  we closed Mason Heights and now we will close Western Row, and then we build on smaller classrooms and smaller additions. What that tells me is the population of the students is shrinking. I’m not sure in the overall aspect if this is a good investment to close schools and then add additions on. But that’s why the community is involved.”

Murzynowski said ideas presented by the community and students are accepted, as plans for the renovations to the district are still in the beginning stages.

“What we need to do is be careful at what we’re looking at using as far as a facility,”  Murzynowski said. “When we initially started looking at it, we looked at the big picture of things, but then we started to talk to people and they started bringing up things like restrooms and lockers and space. We have to consider all of these things before we finalize anything.”