August 23, 2014

Planning committee makes recommendations to school board

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com

In order to meet its long term obligations, school district officials should build a new elementary school, add classroom space at Prairie Creek Elementary School and convert existing space for different use, a representative of the USD 230 long-term planning committee told Spring Hill School Board members Tuesday night.

“I believe we’ve made a decision that will help our community and school district grow in a way that is fiscally responsible,” Jason Winbolt said.

The committee’s recommendation includes more than doubling capacity at Prairie Creek Elementary School at a cost of $5.25 million. The school currently holds 243 students – one more than official capacity.

The most costly of the six changes to the district building usage recommended by the committee involves building a new $21 million elementary school.

The committee also recommended that the board fund deferred maintenance projects in the district and address technology needs through 2014.

The plan also proposes converting Spring Hill Elementary School to a kindergarten through fifth grade facility; and moving sixth graders from Spring Hill Middle School to Spring Hill Intermediate School, which would house only sixth graders.

Board member Max Strausbaugh worried that SHIS would be underutilized if only sixth graders attended school in the building.

Superintendent Bart Goering said the additional space could be used to house administration and busing needs.

“There are only a finite number of options,” Andy Anderson, a consultant with DLR group that facilitated a series of long range district planning meetings, said. “The group just thought that would be the more fiscally responsible solution.”

Winbolt said exclusively housing sixth graders in the intermediate school building would stave off an immediate need for a new middle school. Winbolt said the committee wanted to find a solution that would create a district that eventually includes four elementary schools with 528 student capacity that feed to two middle schools and one high school with a student capacity of more than 1400 students.

Anderson said projected future enrollment numbers drove the committee’s decision-making process.

He said those numbers show that the existing elementary schools will exceed capacity within the next year or two. The middle school won’t face capacity pressures for another two or three years.

The final price tag for all projects would be $34 million.

Winbolt said if a bond issue was approved by voters in the spring, the $34 million price tag would not result in a mill levy increase for district residents.

Board member Chris King questioned if that was possible. According to a report from the district’s bond counsel, the district would not need to raise the mill levy to pay for such a bond issue if total assessments increase 2 percent in the next two years followed by valuation increases of 4 and 5 percent.

“I’m a little concerned that the last two years in a row, our valuations have moved downward,” King said.

School business director Doug Schwinn said there were a number of variables to be considered beyond assessed valuations. He said if state aid continues to increase there may be no need for a mill levy increase.

“I tend to believe that as long as Insight (USD 230 online high school) continues to grow, state aid will increase,” Schwinn said.

There are also abatements scheduled to expire in the next few years.

“There are some very big variables that could sway (the mill levy) either way,” Schwinn said.

Goering said if the board promises taxpayers that the mill won’t increase, it won’t increase.

“It doesn’t go down, but it doesn’t go up,” Goering said. “I feel very confident that we’ll do what we say we’re going to do.”

Anderson said the next steps will include determining where growth is going to occur so they can scout a location for a new school, and determining whether to hold a mail ballot election or walk-in polls.

“You get a lot better turnout in mail ballot elections,” Anderson said. “It costs a lot more money.”

Mail in ballot bond issues typically increase the likelihood that a bond issue will pass, Anderson said.

Since 1983, 83 percent of mail-in bond elections have been approved by voters. In walk-in elections for bond issues, only four of 11 have been approved since 1983.

Anderson’s firm – the DLR Group – also designs schools, including Spring Hill High School. Under its existing contract with the school district for consulting services for long range planning, the firm will not be paid unless district patrons pass a bond issue.

Board members said they had many more questions about the committee’s recommendations including how busing costs would be impacted. They requested a work session be scheduled to discuss the issue in greater detail.

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