Executive Director Chris Cezar shows off the board room that is part of the newly renovated facility for the Marion County Special Education Cooprative. Cezar says the move from Florence to Marion was ?the right thing for kids.?
Like any family moving into a new home, the staff and students at Marion County Special Education Cooperative aren?t fully settled into their new digs yet.
Because of a couple of weeks of construction delays, MCSEC moved from its former location in Florence to its newly renovated facility in Marion?the former Golden Living retirement center?just before classes started Aug. 24.
A month later, the hallmarks of a recent move are still evident. The smell of fresh paint lingers in the hallways, and neatly stacked boxes and materials in the occasional corner indicate the move is not complete.
?It?s been good,? executive director Chris Cezar said of the transition, ?but it?s been an adjustment for my staff and myself?just moving to a new location and trying to fit ourselves into a new space.?
At least the space is plentiful.
Cezar said the north and west wings of the facility have been renovated for MCSEC use, but the east room is being used only for storage.
?We didn?t renovate the east wing for merely cost saving,? he said. ?We could fit into the north wing and the west wing, and did not need the east wing.
?We probably plan on doing something with it someday. We?re hopeful maybe we might be able to rent that space out.?
The contract for the renovation project was for a cost of $350,000?and it came in very close to that amount.
?Anytime you renovate an older building, you?re going to get into some things and some additional costs,? he said. ?But talking to the architect, it is within the parameter of what you?d expect. It was a very small percentage.?
The primary work was to convert former resident rooms into classrooms.
?We were limited by certain things, such as not tearing out the center hallways because they were supporting walls,? Cezar said. ?So we went through and knocked out some interior walls. For most of them, it took three resident rooms to make one classroom.?
Adapting the old building to new technology was another challenge.
?I don?t know how many miles of wire we ran,? Cezar said. ?The tech piece was also difficult from the perspective that we needed to upgrade our servers, and when we upgraded we went to a Microsoft server software instead of what we previously used. Transferring data from one system to another has been a real challenge.?
With the new facility, MCSEC has been able to tap into the fiber-optics offered by the Technology Excellence in Education Network.
?TEEN director Brandi Hendricks was very enthusiastic and encouraging to see if we could get onto the network, which is a nice asset for us,? Cezar said.
Programs and services
MCSEC provides services to about 530 students and preschoolers in the county?s five school districts, according to its Web site. It has access to more than 40 certified and clinical professionals, 80 paraeducators and five classified staff members.
The cooperative is governed by a board of directors composed of a member from the board of education from each of the five districts.
The renovated facility is now home to MCSEC?s Oasis and class programs, with an on-campus student population ranging from the mid-teens to as many as 30. They share space with about five teachers, 13 to 14 paraprofessionals, four secretaries, support staff?and Cezar.
Students have needed time to adjust to the new location.
?It?s change, so it took some adjustments for everybody?and they?re no different from the adults because the adults have had some adjustments, too,? Cezar said.
?If you were to ask me six months from now, I?m hopeful (students) would say this has been a really good thing. It?s just that the move has been so recent, so it?s been a stressful time for everybody.?
?Right move for kids?
But Cezar is fully convinced the move to Marion was ?the right thing for kids.? The more centralized location is the primary benefit.
?When we were located in the (southeast) corner of the county we had to drive to get anywhere,? he said.
?The biggest advantage now is that we?re a lot closer to other opportunities for the kids. They have the opportunities to be integrated into (regular) classrooms as they?re capable of doing so.
?We just have more resources here in Marion than we did in Florence.?
At the new location, meals made by USD 408 are transported a mere 100 yards instead of 10 miles. Students have ready access to the district?s recently completed gymnasium and swimming pool.
?That?s very handy,? Cezar said. ?I think there was a misperception that we needed a gym (of our own). We needed one in Florence because there were no other buildings there.?
Are there any disadvantages to the new location?
?I?m not thinking of any significant disadvantages at all,? he said.
The new facility still has some ?to-do? projects on the contractor?s punch list. With the Golden Living Center sign still dominating the front lawn, new signage is the most visible irregularity.
?It wasn?t on the original contract,? Cezar said of new signage. ?I?ve gotten a couple of bids and we are following up on that. We just need to lock down which company will do the best job.?