KEARNEY - The kitchen supply closet is now a social worker's office.

Students eat lunch in the gym.

The teacher's lounge is now a classroom.

Closets are used as testing spaces for students with special needs.

Space in Kearney Public Schools elementary schools is becoming a hot commodity.

"We've taken storerooms and closets and converted them into meeting rooms or testing rooms," Superintendent Brian Maher said. "We've converted spaces that were never intended to be student-used spaces, and we're using them for student use now."

The lack of space and a steady increase in enrollment led the KPS Board of Education to approve a $45 million school bond referendum.

The bond will pay for land acquisition, the construction of two new elementary schools, additions and renovations to existing elementary schools, and technology upgrades at all schools in the district.

In the Sept. 15 vote, district residents will vote on a $2 million tax levy override to staff the new schools.

"We have aging facilities," Maher said. "We have over 800,000 square feet of school facilities and over half of that, over 400,000 square feet of our school facilities will be 50 years old or older in the year 2010."

Many of the elementary schools need roof and window repairs, don't have central air conditioning and still rely on window air-conditioning units.

"We've got a lot of space that's taking on some age, but we need it," Maher said. "We need to give it some tender-loving care and keep it up to speed. So, we need to renovate."

In addition to aging facilities and an increase in enrollment, many schools have gained programs.

"When the building was built, it equipped the kids that came to the building," Bryant Elementary School Principal Mark Johnson said. "But, as time went on, I think what started to happen was programs started at Bryant."

Bryant serves a large population of students from low-income families, which makes the school eligible for funding for additional programs such as English language learning classes and programs for students who need more support in reading.

Bryant, at 1611 Ave. C, needs the most renovation. Needs include new classrooms for kindergarten, special education and ELL, and an expansion of the kitchen and cafeteria.

When Bryant incorporated all-day kindergarten into the school, classrooms were shuffled and half the cafeteria was renovated and became the music room.

The cafeteria is now so cramped for space tables must be set up in the gym, which is next to the cafeteria, to accommodate all students during lunch.

Although setting up tables in the gym reduced the squeeze in the cafeteria, it began interrupting gym class.

"That bumped into P.E. times and he (the P.E. teacher) was trying to conduct P.E. when we had lines of kids coming through here. It was just a mess," Johnson said. "So, we're trying to just use what we have and change our schedule and be flexible."

Johnson said Bryant staff changed the lunch routine many times this school year to try to figure out a way to fit all the students in the lunchroom and not interrupt physical education.

Bryant also faced challenges last year when social workers began working in the schools.

The social worker shared an office with the school nurse, but she was forced to leave every time a student visited the nurse. The school social worker also worked in the counselor's office and the principal's office.

"We needed to find a place for her to talk with kids in a confidential way," Johnson said.

Teachers also were forced to give up the teacher's lounge to make room for ELL classes.

A workstation that housed a copy machine, paper and other tools became the teacher's lounge. The copy machine and supplies now sit in the hallway.

Bryant is also unable to have its preschool on-site because of lack of space. Bryant preschool is taught in the Head Start building, but the teacher does her planning at Bryant in a cubicle in the library.

"Flexible. That's the big word with the Bryant staff. Hugely flexible," Johnson said. "As they keep getting things thrown at them, they just find a way to make it work."

Central Elementary School, which also serves a large population of students from low-income families, faces just as many space problems as Bryant.

ELL classes, programs for gifted students, special reading programs and special education all are taught at Central at 300 W. 24th St.

"None of those were even on the radar when this building was built," Central Principal Theresa Schnoor said. "It's not even that we have to find a place for them, but finding suitable rooms for them because the building was built with the need for regular classrooms as opposed to those specialized environments."

A social worker's office is in a former kitchen supply closet. Life skills classes are taught in former supply closets. Hallways between classes are set up for instruction. The teacher's lounge is in the old shower room in the basement.

"I can't think of a nook or cranny in our building that is not used for instruction," Schnoor said.

Central also uses the Whittier Administration Building for instruction. Preschool, art and music are taught in the building, which is west of the elementary school.

"The thing that we find as we increase our need to use Whittier, is the fact that it is not part of the school. So, whoever is over there feels isolated," Schnoor said. "If you've got a classroom or a grade-level there, they don't experience the overall instructional climate that everyone else does."

Elementary schools across the district face many of the same issues as Bryant and Central.

Maher said renovating the schools is the only way the elementary schools' problems will be solved.

"We've really got Band-Aids on the problem right now," he said.

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Kearney Public Schools Building Summary

Bryant Elementary School

Year constructed: 1950

Building area: 25,526 square feet

Site area: 3.5 acres

Enrollment Capacity: 300

Renovations/remodels: 1978, 1996, 2002 stage remodel

Central Elementary School

Year constructed: 1927

Building area: 52,529 square feet

Site area: 7 acres

Enrollment Capacity: 300

Renovations/remodels: 1997, 2006

Emerson Elementary School

Year constructed: 1950

Building area: 27,306 square feet

Site area: 2.5 acres

Enrollment Capacity: 300

Renovations/remodels: 1980, 1996

Glenwood Elementary School

Year constructed: 1979

Building area: 14,751 square feet

Site area: 10 acres

Enrollment Capacity: 136

Renovations/remodels: none, 1999 addition

Kenwood Elementary School

Year constructed: 1934

Building area: 35,989 square feet

Site area: 2.5 acres

Enrollment Capacity: 300

Renovations/remodels: 1958, 1989, 1990, 1997

Meadowlark Elementary School

Year constructed: 1995

Building area: 31,876 square feet

Site area: 14.5 acres

Enrollment Capacity: 300

Renovations/remodels: 2006

Northeast Elementary School

Year constructed: 1958

Building area: 43,338 square feet

Site area: 5 acres

Enrollment Capacity: 450

Renovations/remodels: 1962, 1966, 1968, 1977, 1998

Park Elementary School

Year constructed: 1950

Building area: 26,206 square feet

Site area: 1.5 acres

Enrollment Capacity: 300

Renovations/remodels: 1958, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1996

Stone Elementary School

Year constructed: 1980

Building area: 6,954 square feet

Site area: 1.5 acres

Enrollment Capacity: 45

Renovations/remodels: none

Windy Hills Elementary School

Year constructed: 1981

Building area: 31,890 square feet

Site area: 3 acres

Enrollment Capacity: 300

Renovations/remodels: 1994

Whittier Administration Building

Year constructed: 1920

Building area: 18,700 square feet

Site area: Part of Central Elementary School

Senior College plans KPS bond forum

A public forum on the Kearney Public School District's school bond and levy override referendum will be 7 p.m. Sept. 8 at Kearney Community Theatre at 83 Plaza Blvd.

The Senior College of Central Nebraska will sponsor the forum.

Representatives from the Committee For Our Students and a Positive Future, the Kearney School Board and KPS administration will explain the bond and levy override proposals and will answer questions.

Refreshments will be available.

More information is available from Stan Dart at 224-6432 or by e-mail to msdart@charter.net.

Coming in Wed., Sept. 1 Kearney Hub

Learn what the $45-million school bond would pay for, where the new elementary schools could be built and why the bond doesn't include renovating Kearney High School.