The Ballard school board met for its February monthly meeting Feb. 19, and spent a majority of the time discussing various options for the potential renovation of the existing middle school. The details and construction options for the project are being spearheaded by Haila Architects, of Ames. There are multiple options being discussed.

One possibility is to add a middle school onto the high school and make use of shared areas such as lunchroom, media center, commons and auditorium space. A drawback to this proposal is that some members of the administration (and of the school board) are not advocates of mixing sixth-graders with high schoolers.

A second option is to build an entirely new, freestanding middle school. When discussions began several years ago, architectural estimates to renovate the middle school were significantly less than the recent estimate provided to the district. The latest cost estimates from Haila Architects show a 2016 construction cost of $13,090,000 versus an estimated 2019 cost of $16,180,000, plus additional mechanical and electrical updates between $3 million and $4.75 million.

Superintendent Ottie Maxey mentioned that several members of the community have inquired if a $16-20 million dollar price tag could essentially build a brand new middle school, rather than doing a renovation. Maxey said he recently toured the newly constructed Solon Middle School, a comparably sized district to Ballard. That school required a bond referendum of $25.5 million to build. Haila estimates that the cost of a brand-new, stand-alone middle school in Huxley would also approach the $24-$28 million range. The board does not find this to be a viable option due to cost and the issue of what they would do with the current middle school building.

The most plausible choice (which has been the main option all along) is to add onto the existing middle school building, and redesign and update the current space into a more modern, more collaborative learning environment. The renovation would include a new media center/commons space on the north side of the building, where current classrooms are, a new dining commons and administrative wing on the southeast side of the building and a new wing on the southwest side, which would house all sixth-graders, keeping them completely separate from the seventh and eighth grades. Currently, the sixth and seventh grades are adjacent to each other.

Another major change to the building calls for a conversion of the current courtyard area into a two-story teaching space.

Travis Squires, Piper Jaffray financial consultant for the district, has calculated the bonding capacity for the district at $16 million. The Ballard school board will continue to meet with Haila Architects and consider the most financially feasible and fiscally responsible method of construction. The board hopes to bring a proposal to vote by this coming September. In order to pass, the referendum would require 60 percent approval.