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Decision time grows near

CCA presents three options for handling continued enrollment growth ahead of a bond referendum this fall
Clear Creek Amana School Board member Matt McAreavy (at left) answers questions from a small group discussing options for increased enrollment growth in the district.

TIFFIN– There is little doubt the Clear Creek Amana Community School District (CCA) will need to ask the voters to approve another bond referendum in September in order to provide space for continued enrollment growth. The question, though, is how much money the district will ask for, and how much new space it will be able to build.
The district held a public forum at the middle school on Tuesday, Jan. 7, with leadership team members, school board members, and representatives from RSP & Associates (the district’s enrollment growth consultant) and Piper Jaffray (the district’s financial advisor) present to explain three options to roughly 40 members of the community, and to solicit their input and address any concerns.
By 2023, the district will need additional elementary instructional space. RSP’s latest enrollment forecast shows CCA providing instruction to nearly 4,500 students by 2029-30, a significant increase from the 2,588 currently enrolled. Within the next five years, RSP projects 900 new students, with roughly 500 of those in the elementary grades while the middle school and high school will see nearly 200 more students per building.
While the middle and high school buildings will be able to handle the increased enrollment, once again elementary space will be maxed out. North Bend Elementary (NBE) in North Liberty, for example, has an instructional (ideal) capacity of 425 students, and a structural (all possible spaces being utilized for instruction) capacity of 525. RSP’s forecast has NBE at 437 students by 2023, and at 462 by 2024. The opening of Oak Hill Elementary as a fourth- and fifth-grade building has helped to ease the space crunch at NBE and Tiffin Elementary (TE). However, Tiffin Elementary has an instructional capacity of 450, and a structural limit of 550. By 2022, RSP envisions 462 students, with an increase to 517 in 2023, and 577 by the 2024-25 academic year. As has been the trend, Amana Elementary and Clear Creek Elementary (CCE) in Oxford will have room to spare.
Rob Schwarz, the CEO of RSP, told the 40-some members of the community who attended that 2023-24 will be the year a decision will have to be made regarding meeting instructional capacity for the elementary grades (if not addressed sooner). The district’s guiding principles state the ideal elementary school capacity is 600 students. However, Amana and CCE can remain as smaller schools. In addition, the district would prefer kindergarten through fifth-grade levels in all of the elementary buildings.
The ideal middle school capacity is between 900 and 1,200 with 300 per grade (sixth, seventh and eighth). But, as enrollment grows, so, too, does the need for appropriate facilities (lunch room, fine arts, etc.). While the middle school has been added onto multiple times, yet another addition could be required in the next decade.
The ideal high school capacity is between 1,200 and 1,800 students with 300 per grade (ninth-12th). An addition scheduled for 2022, and paid for through the $36 million bond issue voters approved in 2017, will increase the instructional capacity to 1,200, and the structural capacity to 1,400. As with the middle school, as enrollment increases, again the need for additional facilities to support those students will, too.
Currently three options are being explored to increase elementary space.
Option 1: Additions at NBE, Oak Hill, and TE in 2023 adding space for 175, 150 and 150 students, respectively, at a cost of $7 million, $4.5 million and $4.5 million respectively. A new elementary school would be pushed back to beyond 2029. Additions would also be built to the middle school and high school in 2025 to expand common areas, fine arts, and Career Technology Education (CTE) spaces at an estimated cost of $4 million and $10 million. No classrooms would be added to either building.
It should be noted, regardless of which option is chosen, the middle school and high school projects would also be considered.
Advantages, as determined by the facilities planning committee, include spending the least amount of money, helping with current capacity challenges and maintaining current attendance area boundaries. The negatives, include the strong possibility that adding six-classroom pods may not be enough to meet the needs of NBE and Tiffin, and while kindergarten through fifth grade is desired, merely adding a pod to each building could leave them at pre-kindergarten through third grade longer and may require changes to preschool programming. Adding pods would also likely require expanding kitchen/lunchroom areas, additional parking spaces, and more playground space as well.
Option 2: A 175-student addition would be built at NBE in 2024 at a cost of $7 million, and a new 600-student elementary school would be built in 2025 at a cost of $25 million. No changes would be made at Oak Hill or Tiffin.
Advantages include providing a positive impact to the highest number of students, better bang for the buck for the money spent, potentially less bussing, and relieving capacity issues at NBE and Tiffin. The disadvantages include needing land for the new school, having to redraw attendance area boundaries, capacity issues continuing at NBE and Tiffin for another year, and further delaying NBE going to a pre-kindergarten through fifth grade configuration again.
The district has purchased two parcels of land, one along Highway 6 near Oxford, and the other across Highway 6 from the high school. However, a use for these parcels has not yet been determined. In addition, the City of Coralville has expressed interest in having an elementary school in the West Land Use area (between Highway 965 and Interstate 380), possibly to include donating land.
Option 3: A new 600-student elementary school would be built in 2024 at an estimated cost of $25 million with no capacity changes anticipated for NBE, Tiffin, or Oak Hill until after 2029.
At its Dec. 3, 2019, meeting, the facilities committee voted on the three options, with Option 2 garnering the majority.
The district’s financial picture has changed during the facilities planning process, which began in September. According to Piper-Jaffray, the district’s maximum debt limit for 2025 has increased to near $55 million, which makes any of the three options feasible. Superintendent Tim Kuehl has stated even with the district taking on additional debt, the property tax levy would remain the same. In recent years, people have seen an increase in the amount of their property taxes going to the schools, however Kuehl has pointed out it is the result of an increase in valuation, and not in the actual levy. The increase in property valuation across the district, which has territory in both Johnson and Iowa counties, plays a role in the brighter financial outlook as Piper-Jaffray anticipates valuations to continue to increase, thus generating additional revenue for the district.
Along with discussions during a small-group portion of the public forum, the district also opened an online Thought Exchange, which will be up through Thursday, Jan. 16, at http://bit.ly/ccafacility. The comments will be compiled and provided to the leadership team on Tuesday, Jan. 21, for review. Their findings and recommendations will be provided to the school board for its February meeting, at which time a final decision is anticipated. The district will then embark on a public education campaign this spring with a bond vote in September.

CCA Thought Exchange, active through Thursday, Jan. 16