By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
OXFORD– Determining the next best thing for students? That’s a task for the members of the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) school district’s Facilities Study Committee. Around 25 committee members, faculty and staff met Wednesday, Oct. 10, at the elementary school in Oxford for an organizational meeting.
The district is continuing to face increased enrollment and a resulting lack of space, leading to the potential need to expand existing facilities or even build new. The board approved a committee to explore the district’s needs and make recommendations to address them.
Kent Pilcher and Richard Parades, both of Estes Construction, reviewed a seven-phase matrix they recommend for districts considering new construction and/or bond referendums. The Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB), through the association’s Iowa Construction Advocacy Team (ICAT), endorses Estes Construction. Pilcher, president of Estes, and Parades, vice-president, have met multiple times with superintendent Dr. Denise Schares and the school board. However, the district has not entered into any contract with Estes at this time, and no compensation has been provided to the company for their time.
The matrix is a rough timeline from September 2012 to September 2013, and lists various tasks to be completed by the school board and the committee.
The process helps the board and committee determine what the district wants, needs, and ultimately; what it can afford.
“We understand a lot of the issues regarding referendums,” said Pilcher. Building a breadth of support, he said, is key to successfully passing a bond referendum.
Pilcher stressed the consultant role of Estes Construction/ICAT. “We’re here to help you ask questions, to move quickly, create energy and begin the thinking as you address growth and explore options.”
If the committee and board decide to pursue a bond referendum, the timeline would have them ready for it by next September to be on the fall 2013 ballot. Early in the matrix is the board and committee aligning to be unified. While there may be disagreements on specifics throughout the process, Pilcher said they needed to present a unified front. He also said they should get an architect, construction manager (CM) and finance expert on board sooner than later.
The district has utilized the architectural and design services of Shive-Hattery, and architect Keith Johnk was in attendance. Estes Construction is hoping to be hired as the construction manager for any future projects, and Tim Oswald of Piper-Jaffray has worked with the district’s finances in the past and currently is the financial advisor.
Piclher also emphasized the importance of community involvement. Even if some wish list items end up being cut, Pilcher said, at least the ideas would be brought up. “It lets everybody feel they’ve been heard.” He said some in the community may still argue about what was cut, “but they can’t argue against the logic.”
Calling the committee a conduit through which the community’s input will reach the board, Pilcher and Parades urged the members to go forth into the district and ask their friends and neighbors what they think, what they want, what worked well with the last bond referendum; and even what didn’t work out so well. The public is able to attend committee meetings as well, as they fall under Iowa’s Open Meetings Law.
“Everything is in the light of day and transparent,” Pilcher reminded them.
Board member Bob Broghammer gave the committee a brief history of the board’s discussions on enrollment growth and space needs, which led to the current six-classroom addition currently being built at North Bend Elementary in North Liberty. “I’m open to ideas,” he said.
Committee member Bev Seelman questioned Pilcher on what she considered a conflict of interest regarding Estes Construction. Board member Aimee Pitlick rose to their defense. “They’re here to help us understand where we are and where we need to go,” Pitlick said. If and when the time comes to hire for projects, “it may be them, it may well not be them.” Pitlick said. “(There is) no hidden agenda from the board. We looked to the IASB for help, and Estes is aligned with them.”
Pilcher said the firm has put in thousands of dollars worth of time and effort but did not want the discussion to be about Estes. “We’re here out of good will,” Pilcher said, dismissing Seelman’s concerns by assuring the group there is no conflict at all.
Broghammer noted the board has not yet interviewed anyone in relation to the project. The board has a list of professional services providers, he said, but they haven’t reviewed the list yet, nor done anything with it. Superintendent Schares added that the board hasn’t even decided on a delivery method yet, therefore any thoughts of hiring were premature.
Pilcher reminded all that a bond referendum is not a foregone conclusion. Now, he said, the hard work begins for the committee. “The good news is, you’re on early.”
“We have a couple of members (of the committee) who were on the last committee,” Dr. Schares said. “A good cross-section of the district is represented within the committee.”
Malinda Lamb and Laura Sheely volunteered and were voted by the committee to serve as co-chairs. The next committee meeting is Monday, Nov. 12, at Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford, at 6:30 p.m.