LIBERTY — Expressing their opinions on a range of topics like facility use, financial stewardship and school size, Liberty Public Schools patrons took an active role in shaping the district’s long-range facility plan at the first of two community input meetings Thursday, Feb. 16.

More than 90 participants joined in the exercise that asked them to indicate their level of agreement and provide comments on 16 education-related statements.

“We wanted to come and understand what this is about. We were hoping to be able to voice our opinion on some of the things that are important to us,” said participant Andrew Walker. “We feel a lot of the focus has gone to athletic programs. We understand they bring in revenue, but athletics are not everything, in our opinion. We would like to see arts, theater and those types of things gain focus.”

Walker, who has children at the high school and elementary levels, said he wanted to make sure the district maintained its facilities to provide quality learning settings for years to come.

The statements, or planning criteria, were designed by Hollis and Miller Architects with district input to begin evaluating community perspectives on facility issues.

“In a nutshell, it’s our values,” said Liberty Superintendent Jeremy Tucker while defining planning criteria. “What we value as a school district, as a community, as we begin this conversation in and around our future, as we continue to see growth in the district, whether it’s programming, whether it’s facilities, whether it’s community engagement, whatever the case may be. That’s our purpose here this evening.”

Developing planning criteria is the third of five phases in creating an updated long-range facility plan, said Kevin Nelson, a client leader with Hollis and Miller. At this point, the objective is to give as many district stakeholders the opportunity to provide input on facility matters, Nelson said.

Matthew Barksdale said his motivation to attend the meeting was his belief school districts are the foundation of a successful community.

“Our kids are toward the end of their time in the district. The impact of this is going to be long after our kids are gone. The real issue is education is such a cornerstone of a community. It is critical to have a school district that is creating people that are good citizens, smart and can help drive the community forward,” he said.

A second community input meeting was scheduled for the morning of Thursday, Feb. 23. By the end of February the district intends to launch an online survey to collect feedback from those who were not able to attend either meeting.

“The most important piece we feel coming out of these conversations, as well as the online experience that people will engage with, is to be able to wrap back around to our community and share out what our planning criteria are as we move forward,” Tucker said.

Once the planning criteria phase is completed, Nelson said the process would move into an exploring options phase in which more specific projects would be analyzed and plan options would be drafted. Those plans will be presented to the Board of Education for review and eventual adoption at a future board meeting.

Education Editor Ryne Dittmer can be reached at ryne.dittmer@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6606.

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