The ball is officially rolling on a brand new elementary school in northeast Des Moines and that is certainly exciting news. It’s been half a century since the district established an entirely brand new school!

But that’s not all that happened at the school board meeting on Tuesday night. Plans were also greenlighted for the latest installments of an ongoing capital improvements campaign that’s systematically upgrading the district’s existing schools, which average 63 years old.

Next up are additions at Jackson Elementary and Cowles Montessori, a Pre-K through 8th grade building.

The Jackson plans call for four new classrooms and a gym.

“This expansion will enable us to accommodate the increased enrollment coming to Jackson from our neighborhood,” said principal Cindy Wissler. “And a gym separate from our cafeteria will greatly increase the flexibility of scheduling in our building. Right now things are pretty tight because we have to shut down the gym to use it at lunchtime. We are so excited about these changes. Our 5th graders keep asking me if they can come back next year to enjoy them.”

The Cowles project features a new music room and gym, and includes installation of an elevator. The music room and gym together will form a multipurpose event space the school doesn’t currently have.

“This project will make it possible for us to much better serve the needs and interests of our students and community,” principal Todd Johnson told the board. “So thank you.”

Each of the projects will cost an estimated $3 million with ground to be broken next spring and completion anticipated in time for the start of the 2018-19 school year.

The funding source for both is the statewide penny sales tax and they are part of the Students First capital improvements campaign that continues to modernize district facilities in terms of both learning conditions for students and energy efficiency. DMPS has achieved the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Partner of the Year status every year since 2012, and in 2014 became the first school district in the nation to “three-peat” that distinction.

Those operational cost savings represent more than good stewardship of limited resources. They also free up more of tight school budgets to ensure that our schools are not only up to date but adequately staffed.

Besides taking action last night on acquisition of the property proposed for the new school and the major additions at Jackson and Cowles, the board also got a first look at plans for a new entrance at Hubbell Elementary School and an addition to McCombs Middle School.

As DMPS Chief Operations Officer Bill Good has said many times, “The district’s commitment to manage our energy use has paid big dividends for our schools and the entire community. Making our buildings more efficient has saved millions of dollars at a critical time for education.”

You can say that again, Bill. And again, when these next two in a remarkable series of renovations and expansions are checked off the list.

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