OXFORD– Clear Creek Amana (CCA) superintendent Tim Kuehl said it’s a no-brainer.
“We need to get going on something. We have the money, essentially, so we don’t need that approval. We have overcrowded facilities, now we need to figure out step one and take care of that.”
Kuehl was referring to the revelation that the previous bond vote by the district in 2008,for the construction of North Bend Elementary and the new high school, provided enough tax levy to proceed with building projects to address the ongoing space crunch. Kuehl spoke to the school board about facilities needs during the regular monthly work session and business meeting Monday, July 29, at Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford.
“In ’08 you passed the $4.05 levy rate, so that’s good. Whatever we decide to do, we’re not looking at something that’s going to be a property tax hike for people,” Kuehl said.
He stressed with the levy question decided previously by the voters, the district already has the authority to tax up to $4.05 per $1,000 of property valuation.
“We can use that money for a building project,” Kuehl said, “but we have to pass (by a bond referendum approved by the voters) a specific project.” He said it appeared to him the board wouldn’t have to increase the tax rate for new facilities initially, but left that door open.
“Down the road, if we ever needed a cash reserve levy, we might want to look at tweaking some things,” said Kuehl.
Board member Jim Seelman, a veteran of the 2008 bond, clarified things a bit further for his colleagues.
“We’re increased (through the 2008 vote) to $4.05 but we’re not taxing at $4.05. We’re not taking it all. This would allow us to go up to that amount.” Board member Steve Swenka asked for more clarification.
“Is it a 100 percent accurate statement to say we could pass a bond without raising property taxes at all?” Swenka asked.
“I don’t think we want to guarantee that,” Kuehl said, but with input from board secretary and district financial officer Lori Robertson, it was made clear there was a slim chance of an increase, with a high level of confidence the rate would remain constant due to such previous financial maneuvers as refunding existing bonds and altering the interest and repayment schedule, thus improving the district’s debt capacity. Kuehl acknowledged said would be an important point to clarify and publicize to the voters.
“Whatever we look at, we’re looking at three or four projects through 2017,” Kuehl said. “So there’s a lot of things to do.” That is also the projected year when an addition would be needed at the high school. “Obviously, right now, we need to do something to alleviate pressure at the elementaries and the middle school.” Kuehl said that could mean both a new elementary somewhere on the east side of the district and some form of new center at the middle school site, either a grades four through six building or a fifth and sixth grade building.
“It’s not a one-step solution,” Kuehl cautioned.
To start the discussion with the board, Kuehl suggested a new building at the middle school site, connected to the middle school and sharing common spaces such as the gym, library and cafeteria; then acquiring land for a new elementary school. He said ideally the land would be large enough for more than one building as growth continues, and noted one new elementary building wouldn’t be enough in the long term based on enrollment projections. “I don’t think there’s a wrong first step at this point,” he added. “We just need to get started. We’ve got the (financial) capacity to take care of business, so let’s take care of business.”
The board is looking at holding a referendum in February 2014, which, if passed, would set off a domino effect with bids let shortly after and construction starting in the summer of 2014. The earliest any new building or expansion project would be completed and ready for use would be one year later. Kuehl and the board reviewed a timeline, mapping out four options under review.
In discussing a new elementary school, Seelman suggested using the plans for North Bend for the new school. “There’s probably some tweaking,” Seelman said, but the plan had already gone through the community’s input process. ”If that was a general blueprint, couldn’t we use that to expedite the process?”
Seelman and vice president Rick Hergert asked North Bend principal Brenda Parker her thoughts on the building.
“It’s a great building,” Parker said. “I love the design.” Parker thought the floor plan would work as a facility for grades four through six, and Shive-Hattery’s Keith Johnk concurred.
The building and grade level-specific talk prompted Seelman to remind his fellow board members, “We as a board might not want to get bogged down exactly where grades go,” Seelman said. “Our administration is going to need flexibility in the interim to shift kids around.” “Maintaining flexibility is key,” Kuehl agreed, and said any new building would need to be adaptable to future needs. Johnk reminded the board age/grade level typically determines classroom size, with larger rooms for younger grades. However, having rooms a bit larger than average could be an asset, making them less likely to be crowded if class sizes need to increase.
The board will meet Monday, Aug. 19, at 6 p.m. with Larry Sigel of Iowa School Finance Information Services, Inc. to learn more about bonding and running a successful bond issue campaign. A work session is expected to follow to further refine the facilities options. Kuehl told the board he would like for them to have a final decision ready for the regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
With a final decision, Johnk and Shive-Hattery can shift into overdrive working on specific plans, while Kuehl can discuss land options with potential sellers and the district’s legal counsel. No land could be purchased until after passage of the bond, or without board approval. On Monday, Aug. 26, the board will welcome candidates for the September school board election for a Q&A session with the option of a work session to follow if needed.
Four options under consideration:
Option A constructs a new fourth through sixth grade upper elementary on the east side of the district in 2014, ready for use in 2015. It also moves sixth grade to Amana Elementary for the 2014-2015 school year. In addition, an expansion to the existing middle school would be designed in 2015 and ready for use in 2017 with other renovations designed in 2016 and ready in 2018. An expansion of the high school is also included to be designed in 2015 and completed in 2017. In 2019 a second addition to the high school would be designed and constructed for completion in 2021 while a new pre-Kindergarten through third grade elementary would need to be designed in 2020 and ready for use in 2022.
Option B designs and constructs a new Pre-K through fourth grade elementary in 2015 for use in 2017, also moves sixth graders to Amana and designs and builds a fifth through eighth grade center at the middle school site to be ready in 2015. Additionally middle school renovations and expansion are also included to be completed in 2016 and 2017 respectively with high school expansions the same as in Option A.
Option E1 designs and builds a new eastside PK through fifth grade elementary to be open in 2015, also moves sixth grade to Amana for the 2014-2015 school year and is concurrent with an expansion of the middle school, also to be open in 2015. Middle school renovation would start in 2014 and be completed in 2016 with high school expansion the same as the previous two options.
Option E2 features two eastside elementary schools built by 2018 in addition to expansion and renovation work at the middle school and two additions to the high school.