Vicksburg deals with summer learning, construction

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Community Schools officials are preparing for a busy summer at some of its buildings.

In addition to juggling a few significant construction projects, administrators face the task of coordinating summer-learning programs.

“We have ramped up our discussions around the summer … one of the big maneuvering aspects of summer services is, as we’re doing construction, where can we put the kids?” Superintendent Keevin O’Neill said. “We certainly will be working through that and we’re confident we can put together a plan. We’re working with our staff right now to see the interest in doing some summer school, so, stay tuned.”

Board member David Schriemer acknowledged the district’s staff has gone above and beyond this year, and deserves a break. Still, Schriemer said he hopes there are some enthusiastic teachers willing to help out this summer.

“I think it’s so critical and if we have more dollars available to do something, I really hope we’re able to do something even bigger than we’ve done before,” Schriemer said. “I think that’d be fantastic.”

In response, O’Neill referenced House Bill 4048, which would provide funding from the state for teachers and support staff involved in K-8 summer programs or high school credit-recovery programs.

Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss elaborated on the pending construction work taking place this summer at Sunset Lake and Tobey schools, financed through last year’s voter-approved bond issue.

“The work is about $5.2 million worth of construction and it’s going to relate primarily to upgrading the mechanical systems at those two buildings. There’s a lot of work that goes along with that,” Goss said.

He said the work will include new windows, replacing curtain walls, a stucco-like façade, mechanical upgrades to bring cooling systems into the buildings, new piping, electrical upgrades including a conversion to LED lighting and acoustic ceilings.

“It’s very daunting when you look at the summer construction season and every year the needs to use the building for the summer go up and up and up,” he said, adding that a number of discussions have taken place with principals, O’Neill, the district’s curriculum director and others in an attempt to coordinate summer-instruction options. “I feel like we’re walking a tightrope because we have a limited amount of time to do a lot of work, and we have a limited amount of time to work with our students.”

Goss said the added expense of running air conditioning at the schools will be largely offset by savings realized through the installation of energy-efficient windows, exterior insulation and LED lighting. Replacing the single-pane, glass windows – which are original from the building’s opening – at the east side of Sunset Lake, for example, will result in a substantial degree of energy efficiency.

Work at Sunset Lake will be done over two summers considering the magnitude of construction there.

Sixteen bid packages related to the summer work were subsequently approved by the board. The board in coming months is expected to review bids related to stadium improvements at the high school. The work will include replacement turf on the football field, and replacement asphalt and track coating.

Meanwhile, O’Neill said the majority of the district’s employees have had their second COVID-19 vaccination. As a result, some parents have inquired about class sizes, as some families want to move their children from virtual back into in-person learning.

He said the district has capped its elementary rooms to 23 students and is has started to add potential returning students to a waiting list.

“If there’s no room in their home elementary school in that grade level, we ask them if they would like to attend a different elementary for this school year only,” he said. “We’ve had some success there.”

O’Neill said there has been no consideration given to increasing class sizes beyond 23 students per room.

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