After nearly an hour and a half of discussion at Monday’s meeting, the Springfield Platteview Community Schools Board of Education emerged with a good sense of what they want to include in their next bond proposal.
Of six possible packages presented by DLR Group, the district’s architects, the board ended the meeting leaning toward one labeled “C1,” a package that runs $24.9 million and includes all work at Springfield and Westmont elementary schools as well as the remodeling of Platteview Central Junior High and Platteview High School.
The package as proposed would not include a connection between the junior high and high school, work on either parking lot or tornado safe rooms for the elementary schools.
The lack of tornado safe rooms proved to be a sticking point with board members, and that element of the proposal is up for negotiation. While the board agreed that tornado shelters were a high priority, installing one at each elementary school would cost around $1 million.
At present, DLR Group representatives Mike Kros and Pat Phelan plan to look into whether cutting an administrative addition to the high school would save enough money to put the tornado shelters back into the plan and keep the total at $24.9 million.
If not, the board will have to decide if that piece of the proposal is important enough to raise the proposed bond total to $25.9 million.
Such a raise would run contrary to Board Vice President Brian Wichman’s theme for the meeting. He campaigned throughout the discussion for the lowest possible bond issue, maintaining that voters would vote solely on the number and not on the content.
“There were no ‘no’ votes based on what was in the bond,” he said. “It was the price. It’s about the number, not which needs we’re meeting. What I’m hearing is ‘That’s too much all at once; come back in three years and ask again.’ It doesn’t matter what we’d build or say we need.”
Wichman advocated for a $19.3 million bond that would only include renovations to the junior high and everything the district had asked for in both elementary schools, with the rest of the district’s needs as future goals.
Board President Brenda Sherman seemed surprised at Wichman’s proposal.
“Really?” she asked. “You’d go down that low? And do it again? The price is good on bonds now.”
Wichman said he didn’t disagree.
“I’m just saying what I think the public will pass,” he said. “I think $19 (million) to $20 million is the magic number. I’ll support whatever you guys want, that’s just my opinion.”
Superintendent Brett Richards argued that it would be a matter of years until another bond could be considered, and he didn’t think the high school could be completely ignored until then.
“The locker rooms are falling apart, and there are problems with the roof membrane,” he said. “We also need to update the science classrooms. Our biggest attractor is our high school and our technology initiatives. Our science labs can’t go another seven years untouched. There are things at the high school that won’t last until another bond.”
However, a certain level of high school renovations would trigger the necessity of making sure the high school is up to code, causing what Sherman called a “hornet’s nest of problems.”
Sherman asked the board what they thought a “magic number” for passing a bond this time around would be.
“Does anyone feel there’s a number that the public would pass, other than zero?” she asked.
Phelan said that, in his experience, the “magic number” to get a bond to pass is anything under a $100 per year increase in taxes.
Richards said a $24.9 million bond would mean a 16.5 cent increase on the district’s levy, an increase of about $250 per year for the owner of a property valued at $150,000.
Although the board ultimately decided package C1 was the best option for the next attempt at passing a bond, Sherman and board member Lori Bartels were upset that this version of the bond would not include a connection between the junior and senior high schools.
Without that connection, students will continue to walk out in the open during the school day to travel across the school complex.
Board members discussed various options for the walkway, including making it simply a hallway, putting the gymnasium/tornado shelter there or making it into the media center.
Any one of those proposals would cost around $5 million, Kros said, as it would involve a good deal of site work. Sherman acknowledged this, but she said she still wished there was a way to make it work.
“I struggle with the fact that we can’t connect the junior high to the high school, but it just seems like we can’t do it at any kind of low cost,” she said.
Bartels said she wanted the public to understand how difficult this process is for the board.
“No one said it was going to be this hard,” she said. “There was nothing we asked for last time that was ‘nice to have.’ The voters are saying they don’t want to take care of all of the needs at once, but that just means we have to prioritize the needs and come back in two years to ask for more.”
Bartels said she hopes the community understands the thought going into the bond proposal.
“I’d love to have more of the public here listening to us debate this so they could see how hard it really is,” she said.
With information due to the Election Commission by March 1 if the district wants to get the bond issue on the ballot this May, the board is working under tight deadlines.
However, Richards said he believes the district is in good shape to have a proposal ready by that time after Monday’s meeting.
A board work session, which will be open to the public, will be held on Feb. 24, at which time the board will have to approve a final proposal to get the issue on the ballot for the May 13 primary election.