$25.5 million decision
SOLON– It’s official.
As expected, the Solon school board has decided to place a $25.5 million bond referendum for a new middle school and performing arts center before district voters.
At a June 26 meeting, school board members accepted a 220-signature petition signed by residents of the district, and passed a resolution calling for a Tuesday, Sept. 9, special election.
It was an action the district had been working toward for months.
In 2013, Struxture Architects of Waterloo conducted a facilities study for the district which highlighted the need for improvements at the middle school. In February, board members approved a $450,000 purchase agreement for approximately 11 acres of land owned by Don and Yvonne Epley west of the high school.
Since then, the board and district staff have continued to work with architects from Struxture to develop and fine-tune conceptual designs for both a new middle school and an auditorium addition to the high school.
The district intends to construct an approximately 75,000 square foot, two-story middle school on the recently-purchased 11 acres on Racine Avenue immediately west of the high school; a 810-seat performing arts center attached to the east side of the high school; and added classroom space for visual arts at the high school (part of the auditorium structure).
In addition, the school system will be seeking a 10-year renewal of its $1.34 per $1,000 assessed valuation Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL), which was set to expire in July 2016.
The motion to accept the petition, which required 209 signatures, and the resolution for the special election both passed unanimously with little discussion. Board member Rick Jedlicka was absent from the meeting, but joined the conversation via cell phone to cast his vote.
And while the action by the board officially launched the referendum, there are still a lot of related details to iron out, and the school board continued those discussions at last week’s special session.
Board members interviewed two potential construction management firms at a June 2 meeting and discussed the companies in advance of a decision in July; and informational materials regarding the bond issue and potential satellite voting opportunities were also considered.
Superintendent Sam Miller has been working with Grant Wood Area Education Agency to design an informational brochure outlining the bond issue proposal, and he presented it to the board members for review.
It’s expected the brochure will be emailed and mailed to residents of the district, with excerpts appearing in the district newsletter mailed monthly through the North Johnson County newspaper.
“We want to have a consistent message and one thing we really tried to do with this flyer is not make it a vote-yes campaign,” Miller told board members. “Hopefully nowhere on here do you see leading information. It’s supposed to be fact-driven.”
The printing of the brochure will be delayed, Miller added, while the City of Solon and the Johnson County Auditor’s office determine whether the polling place will be located at the fire station or at the new city hall.
“I would encourage us to have multiple locations for people to make it easy for them to participate,” Miller said, noting satellite voting could begin as early as 40 days before the election.
District staff would be back in their buildings Monday, Aug. 11, for workshops and welcome-back activities with parents and students, Miller said, but the date is nearly a full month before the election.
Board members also discussed hosting a satellite voting site at Spartan Stadium in connection with the fall sports kickoff Friday, Aug. 22, or a home football game against Iowa City Regina Friday, Aug. 29.
“My concern goes back to our timing,” board member Tim Brown said. “While we’re sitting here, there’s been no outreach.” While he supported satellite voting, he felt the Aug. 11 date would give little time for the district to educate voters.
“This is a very important vote, not only for the district for the facilities, but it’s also the opportunity for us to really find out what the taxpayers of the district want and feel,” board member Dean Martin added. “I’m for making it as accessible as possible.”
Martin said it didn’t sound as if satellite voting would be too much of an expense, but he felt it should be closer to the election date. “I think people won’t pay attention earlier,” he said.
Board members generally supported having satellite voting at one football game (Aug. 29), and perhaps another event that would target more middle school or elementary parents.
The informational flyer does not mention the alternate projects the school system could undertake if bids come in below budget– a new weight room for the high school, for example, or an underpass/overpass connection between the middle and high school.
Brown questioned whether it should be included.
Miller suggested the ballot language, which is included in the flyer, is general enough that those ancillary projects could be included under general improvements.
But Martin warned against making promises the district couldn’t keep.
“I’d be concerned if we put something in here that we thought we might not be able to do,” Martin said. “I’d rather not be in the position we’re not delivering on something we say.”
In addition, Miller suggested the district host a public meeting in August where architects would be present to answer questions from residents.