West Central holds information meeting on new school

West Central building blueprint

 

West Central holds information meeting on new school

 

Janell Bradley

Contributing Writer

 

Improved security and safety, 9,000 sq. ft. less area resulting in utility savings to heat an aged building, science labs with the latest technologies, a commons area for school and community events . . .

Those were just some of the 20 reasons given by proponents advocating for construction of a new junior/senior high school at a community meeting held Sunday at West Central.

Others include the Iowa Department of Education's recommendation for a new school during the last school site visit, and bond interest rates being at nearly an all-time low.

On Tuesday, April 2, voters will decide whether the West Central school district can issue general-obligation bonds up to $7.6 million for an addition to the existing school to house junior/senior high students. The measure requires a 60-percent-plus-one majority.

School administrators told taxpayers at Sunday's open house that the 1920 junior/senior high school is literally falling apart and has wiring issues and heating problems. The portables on the south side of the property, which currently house first through third grades, are plagued with typical problems associated with age: rodents, the elements (heat in the summer and snow filtering through in the winter), and failing heating/cooling units. The 35-year-old portables are not attached to the main school, so youngsters must walk through rain and cold to the main building for lunch and other mainstream activities.

Craig Schwerdtfeger of Struxture Architects explained that if the bond issue passes, construction could take place while school is in session with work to begin in the fall. He said the new structure would likely be inhabitable by the start of the 2015 school year. If a new addition is put in place, it would accommodate some of the programming now in the elementary wing, allowing the first through third grades to be housed in the elementary wing, thus eliminating the portables.

While the total cost of the project is just over $9 million, $7.6 million of the cost would be funded through the 20-year bond issue. The remaining funds would be raised through the district's share of the 1-cent sales tax. The actual interest rates wouldn't be known until bonds are sold, but they are being estimated at 0.65 at the start, and at 2.85 percent at the conclusion of the bond payback.

Bond funds cannot be used for anything other than the construction and furnishing of the addition, pointed out Matt Gillespie of Piper Jaffray.

Gillespie explained how the levy would work, giving the example that a home with an ASSESSED value of $100,000, after rollback and homestead credits are considered, could be levied $15.13 more in taxes per month, or about $181 annually. Gillespie also gave examples of levies for commercial and ag land properties.

Informational material provided Sunday projects the WC district enrollment to stabilize in four years. This current school year, enrollment increased by 10 students. The board of education and administration believe a new building and preschool programming will help keep students from open-enrolling out of the district and may attract open enrollments in.

Among the concerns voiced Sunday is that in the future the school district could be forced by the state Legislature to consolidate.

In response, Supt. Stuart Fuhs said, "Fiscally, we're doing really great, to tell you the truth." He noted that the board of education "is committed to ensuring we're fiscally sound." He said West Central is one of the few districts in the state to not be listed on the No Child Left Behind poor-performance list. The school's 11th grade students were 100 percent proficient on the Iowa Assessments this year.

To the question regarding whether the 1920s building is in danger of being condemned by the state fire marshal, administrators said that fear is not imminent; however, costs to resolve issues that increase that risk are extensive.

For his part, Gillespie emphasized that voters favoring the bond issue must indicate “yes” on both items for it to pass. Voters cannot say “yes” the measure should be adopted but “no” to being taxed. 

In arriving at the total project needs, architects estimated a cost of $6.3 million to construct the educational area, $1.39 million for the practice gym (which, it was pointed out, could be used by area residents for winter/walking, working out), $60,000 for the elevator providing handicapped-accessibility, and $300,000 for demolition of the old structure. Other costs include the parking lot surfacing and design fees and contingency.

In questioning the potential removal of asbestos, it was pointed out that the high school construction predates asbestos, so its presence is minimal. 

Another point made was that while a geothermal heating and cooling system was discussed by the board, it was decided the up-front cost is prohibitive if costs were to be kept within reason.

A second informational meeting is set for Sunday, March 17. There will be tours at 3 p.m., followed by the informational meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. and then tours following. 

There will also be an informational meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, at the community center in Westgate.

 
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