Concerns shared over Bluemont Elementary plan that would eliminate first-grade windows

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Oct. 8—Two parents and a teacher from Bluemont Elementary School publicly expressed concern over a construction plan that would eliminate windows for first-grade classrooms.

During public comment period at the Manhattan-Ogden school board meeting Wednesday, board members heard dissatisfaction from a couple of speakers about some details of a plan to add a new cafeteria/multipurpose room to Bluemont Elementary presented at that school's site council meeting Monday.

Cameron Ward, a realtor with the Alms Group in Manhattan and a member of the Bluemont site council, told board members that site council members were "pretty shocked" to see all the windows in the first-grade classrooms closed off as part of the plan presented by Clint Hibbs of BG Consultants. Ward said the plan as brought forth at the site council meeting consists of adding a corridor that would lead to a new cafeteria and flex-space. He said parents had "significant concerns" about the elimination of windows.

"We all understand the importance of mental health and how getting natural light during the day is important to that," Ward said. "Most classrooms in the district have at least one window."

The construction plans are part of the $129.5 million bond issue approved by voters in 2018. Bluemont Elementary first-grade teacher Lindsey Barrager said she "cannot fathom how putting students in a classroom with just fluorescent lights is going to do anything to benefit them." She said fluorescent lighting can be problematic to some of her students who have sensory problems, and that she usually keeps the lights off in her classroom because there is plentiful natural light. Barrager said natural lighting is equally important to the first-grade science curriculum.

"Three months out of the year, we're planting plants," Barrager said, "and it's not something we can tape to a window somewhere else inside the school."

Barrager said the weather education unit also depends on windows for students to easily read data on atmospheric instruments outside. Additionally, she said the proposed hallway leading to the new cafeteria would be "distracting" to students. Ward said the plans call for windows facing the hallway "where over 200 kids walk every day to get to the lunchroom."

"That would be extremely disruptive," Ward said.

Bluemont parent Lauren Smith said the plan to close off the windows is "just unacceptable."

"I feel like we can do better for our students and our teachers," Smith said. "This project needs to be forward-looking, not just what we can do right now."

Ward said a "positive change" that could be made would be to adjust the construction proposal to focus more on a multipurpose courtyard or outdoor space, while retaining windows for first-grade classrooms. Barrager said even though Bluemont staffers and families "want the coolest new flex space," the design proposal featuring a lack of windows "would take so much away from our students."

Board members and district administrators do not respond on topics presented during public comment period. The comments from Wednesday's meeting about Bluemont construction plans will be forwarded to the district Facilities and Growth committee for further review.

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