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CCA board will likely green-light NBE expansion

TIFFIN— A six-classroom addition to the North Bend Elementary School in North Liberty will likely be approved next month. In the third work session this month, the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) school board continued to look at a list of enrollment growth options, including proposed the addition.
Four of the seven members– Terry Davis, Mic Kahler, president Eileen Schmidt and Ted Hergert– said the addition was their top choice among seven options the board has been discussing. Steve Swenka and Bob Broghammer elected to pursue other options, while Aimee Pitlick said she had no favorite choice.
“We need to use the facilities we have before we go deeper into debt,” Swenka said, as he supported moving fifth graders to Amana Elementary, which has adequate space to handle such an influx. He also called for utilizing the West Campus building, even if only on an as-needed basis to house students. Currently the West Campus building, built in the early 2000s, is home to the district’s transitional program which teaches independent living skills to about 12 mentally challenged individuals. The district’s Family Resource Center and CCA Community Food Pantry are located there as well, while the Grant Wood Chapter of the Red Cross utilizes a classroom and storage closet for their training programs. Additionally, the middle school’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program uses a computer lab and classroom for programs such as the robotics club.
“Everybody wants the best and the newest right now. But what does that teach our kids?” said Swenka.
Broghammer supported moving the fifth graders to Amana but said, “given my druthers, I’d build the new wing (at North Bend).” However, the district’s debt load through 2030 concerned him and he also wanted to see West Campus utilized more. Broghammer taught adult classes in the building in the past. He suggested moving the Transition Program to Amana.
He also said he’d like to see what can be done at the middle school to accommodate the coming surge in students. A plan to put up partitions in the commons spaces at North Bend fell flat for Broghammer.
“It’s cheap, it’s easy, but that’s not a good environment for learning.” He added “I would much rather see us use our facilities to the greatest extent possible before we bond and incur more debt.”
Davis was the first to voice support for the addition, noting the district has the means to fund the project through a revenue bond that could be paid back through School Improvement Local Option sales tax (SILO) dollars, and Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) money.
“It’s not fiscally responsible to put it off any longer,” Davis said. He also wanted to explore a new elementary in Tiffin and start on the middle school renovation project. He expressed his objection to bussing the fifth graders.
Kahler supported the wing but said he wasn’t completely opposed to bussing the fifth graders to Amana. While he wanted the North Bend addition to get going, Kahler also wanted to see if the West Campus could be used and sees the need for a future elementary in Tiffin. He also supported moving ahead on the middle school.
“It’s not going to get any better,” Kahler said of the district’s space crunch.
Pitlick gave an at times emotional response as she tried to narrow down her choices.
“There’s no getting around it. All of our buildings are getting full.” Pitlick said the addition solves space needs only at North Bend, but does not address the pending crunch at Oxford, the middle school or even the high school in a few years. The fate of the Pre-K program also weighed on her decision.
“I have to have the Pre-K to go back (to North Bend from Oxford) to approve the wing,” she said.
In general, she said it is the district’s responsibility to provide the best possible education using the resources it has, and if that means moving students or changing the grade configurations in the buildings, Pitlick said, “then so be it.” She said she and other board members had taken heat from parents over the decision process and specific options such as bussing the fifth graders. The sudden lack of space at the relatively new North Bend was also a point of contention.
“We need better communication with our cities,” Pitlick said regarding current and future housing developments. “The cities are thrilled with the new developments, but they forget the schools have to accommodate the kids.” With North Bend, she said the school was built to the maximum capacity the district could bond for at the time and was anticipated to be adequate for at least five years.
“This just kind of landed in our laps,” she said adding the original enrollment projections were wrong, putting the board in a tough spot.
Pitlick also called for a five-year plan, saying, “we can’t just look at a wing at North Bend.” She was opposed to adding partitions to the commons spaces, decrying the inadequacy of such a space for learning, and called the option a waste of money. She also called for using the specials rooms as regular classrooms if necessary. Ultimately Pitlick said the best option would likely include a number of measures.
Schmidt supported the addition also, looking at SILO money to finance the project.
“It won’t cost us, it won’t cost the taxpayers.” However, she acknowledged a revenue bond is still borrowing money, thus increasing the district’s debt load.
“We’re late starting this (the addition) and we have to get going on it.” Schmidt said. “Next year, we’ll be asking Dan (Dvorak, Clear Creek Elementary principal), ‘do you want to move your kids?’”
Hergert added his support for the addition as well as utilizing the commons spaces at North Bend. For comparison sake, he said Iowa County is looking at 40 new dwelling units versus the nearly 500 in the Johnson County portion of CCA’s district.
Superintendent Denise Schares said the administrative team recommends the North Bend addition as well and feels the board would have to vote yet this spring to issue the necessary revenue bonds. Construction would then be able to start in the 2012-2013 school year with occupancy in the 2013– 2014 school year. Schares confirmed that moving the Pre-K back to North Bend would open space in Oxford, which is rapidly nearing capacity as well.
With the addition, North Bend would again be at capacity in the 2014-2015 school year, and still using alternative spaces such as a former teacher’s work room turned classroom. Also by then, the space crunch will be evident at the middle school and Oxford.
“We will need a (general obligation) bond,” Schares said, to fund both the middle school project and a new elementary school in Tiffin. In other words, taxpayers in the district can look forward to the likelihood of two bond issues in the next five years.
The board will convene in a special work session Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 6:30 p.m. at the high school to go over the district’s bonding capacity and construction estimates for the North Bend addition. As an open meeting, the public is able to attend, but public comments will not be taken. The board would then formally vote on the addition at the regular monthly meeting Monday, Feb. 13.