Waukee School Construction to Start

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

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A couple of things can be counted on when it comes to the Waukee school district and construction: It’s always happening. And each new school looks pretty much like the one that came immediately before it.

Superintendent Dave Wilkerson said there are a couple more facts that residents of the district can count on: Administrators are always planning construction three to four years into the future, as the population growth that has made Waukee the state’s 11th-largest district doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon.

And if it means saving the district’s taxpayers a little money, the next 75 Waukee schools may look exactly alike.

“This is the fourth time we’ve used the same floor plan,” Wilkerson said of Woodland Hills, the district’s seventh elementary school, for which ground recently was broken at the intersection of Stagecoach Drive and 95th Street in West Des Moines. The site is in the former Michael’s Landing development, which now has the same name as the school.

“It may not be too exciting to have four schools that all look the same, but it saves money in architecture costs, design fees — and especially change orders. If we can keep our costs down, I don’t think any of our parents care that there’s not a lot of variety.”

The new school is the district’s seventh school for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, and its third located in the West Des Moines city limits. When it reaches capacity within a few years, it will serve as many as 750 students, Wilkerson said.

“There will be a lot of houses out there,” Wilkerson said of the area, which the district had looked at for about five years as a potential school site. “It’s about as far out there as we can get in terms of development and have the infrastructure already there.

“That’s often the problem with a site — you can’t get out too far in front of the growth, or the infrastructure won’t be in place. Then that becomes prohibitive.”

In March, the West Des Moines City Council voted unanimously to support the construction of the school, which will open in time for the 2013-14 school year.

Wilkerson said the district is grateful to the city for getting behind the project, which is slated to cost about $15 million.

Jerry Ripperger, president of the Waukee school board, said he’s always optimistic about the future of the district, but never more so than when construction begins on a new school. He added that although Woodland Hills will look like its three immediate predecessors, it will be different in a notable way — its site lends itself to a “green” feature.

“On one end, we’re putting in some native Iowa prairie grass,” Ripperger said. “Every one of the schools has at least one unique feature, and this will be unique to Woodland Hills. We’re planting from seed, so it will take a couple of years. But once it all comes in, it will be beautiful, and it will provide some nice learning opportunities for our kids.”

Ripperger said the district already has a boundary committee in place to help determine how the addition of the new building will shift Waukee’s existing attendance boundaries. He said although each elementary student in the district could potentially be affected, he envisions most changes taking place within the Maple Grove, Brookview and Waukee Elementary boundary areas.

“Whenever we have to take a new look at boundaries, we use a factually driven approach that is based not only on where growth is happening, but where we expect to see future growth,” he said. “We also look at how we can disrupt the smallest number of students. We solicit a lot of input, so the end recommendation is always very balanced and representative of many points of view.”

Wilkerson said the district’s board and administrators won’t be able to spend a lot of time enjoying watching Woodland Hills take shape; preliminary planning already has begun for an eighth elementary that will open in 2017, and ground will be broken for a new eighth-and-ninth-grade middle school next year.

“I’ve been here for 18 years, the last eight spent as superintendent, and we’ve always had something under construction,” he said. “A portion of every day is spent dealing with our growth, and it’s a humbling and exciting position for us to be in.

“The board holds us accountable, and there’s so much support from the community. We’ll just keep going and keep hoping everything continues to go well.”


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