Parent Rebecca Bower shares her concerns with school officials as superintendent of schools Dr. Dan Rawls listens during a town hall meeting Monday hosted by the Webster Parish School Board. Michelle Bates/Press-Herald

Several questions surrounding issues at J.E. Harper Elementary School topped a town hall meeting at J.A. Phillips Middle School Monday, many dealing with proposed classroom and gymnasium sizes at Webster Junior High School.

If a proposition on the Nov. 21 ballot is approved by voters, the Webster Parish School Board will move forward with renovations and new construction at Phillips and Webster to house the kindergarten and first grade students at Harper. Sixth graders at Phillips will be moved to Webster.

Parents, teachers and administrators alike questioned architect Perry Watson, of Yeager, Watson and Associates LLC, and superintendent of schools Dr. Dan Rawls regarding the issue over a variety of concerns.

Architect Perry Watson explains the changes that will take place at J.A. Phillips Middle School during a town hall meeting Monday.  Michelle Bates/Press-Herald
Architect Perry Watson explains the changes that will take place at J.A. Phillips Middle School during a town hall meeting Monday. Michelle Bates/Press-Herald

Dr. Beverly Smith, principal at Phillips, says one of the main concerns she’s heard is about where to seat parents and grandparents when the schools hold various programs, such as Veterans Day programs.

The new gymnasium that will be added at Webster is about the size of the current gym at Phillips with restroom facilities. However, the current gymnasium at Webster will house all three grades in event they all need to come together. For instance, when students meet in the gym in the mornings, there’s enough room for all of them with the proposed addition of stackable bleachers and portable padding under the goal end.

“That gym is longer than most gyms and you’ve got quite a bit of run-over at the ends,” he said. “We don’t intend for those bleachers to be open during a junior high ball game. They’ll be banked up and flat.”

Along those same lines is cafeteria space at both schools. Parent Rebecca Bower says

Webster students are already scarfing down their meals with only a 15 minute lunch shift.

Watson says the current “cafetorium” will be expanded by about one-third into the lobby of the school to accommodate an additional 40 to 50 students at one time. Webster’s cafeteria/auditorium is sunken, and has a café-type layout.

The classrooms were another concern as the sixth graders will be moving from 18 classrooms to 11 total, with two earmarked as special education classes. Rawls says the new classrooms will be 24×30, or 720 square feet total, adding that not all of the classrooms at Phillips are in use now.

“We had a meeting after all the numbers were analyzed,” Watson said. “You’ve got one class coming up that’s second or third grade now that’s a big one. But on average, between 180 and 200 is the norm. We’re not discounting one class that’s bigger.”

Bower says her concern is there appears to be no room for growth or fluctuation in class sizes. Watson answered saying population has been stable or declined.

Another concern as well is room for administration when moving the sixth grade. Watson told audience members the design of the sixth grade wing allows the school board to keep the sixth grade separate with their own administration if so desired. On the other hand, Harper principal Janene Ashley will be picking up additional students with the pre-K staying at Phillips.

“There’s a formula that we use that determines how many teachers you get and how many administrators you get,” Rawls said, adding the formula is based on the number of children at one school. “We’ll follow that rule. In most cases, if they get a dean of students they are certified administrators. That’s something we’ve looked at school by school.”

Other concerns were about accommodations for special needs kids and special education classrooms. Concerns were also raised about traffic issues as well.

“My biggest concern as a parent and a taxpayer is that we get this right this time,” Bower said. “I think some people don’t realize that the sixth grade wing was supposed to happen in 2005. I guess, for me, I’d like to know that when something happens and something goes over-budget, what’s going to get cut? As much as I appreciate the building committee trying to be smart with our money and do it well, I would rather have this done right and not have to revisit this issue in five or 10 years.”

The board will host another town hall meeting at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 10, at Webster Junior High School.