The challenge for the Gretna Public Schools is simple.

How do you build and upgrade schools, to keep ahead of housing growth, without hitting taxpayers too hard?

Officials think they’ve found the answer with an $85 million bond issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Voters will let them know if they’re right.

The bond issue would be the largest ever passed in Gretna schools.

Passage would hike the property tax rate 3 cents per $100 of valuation — $45 on a $150,000 house.

The money raised would substantially boost classroom space at the elementary level, expand and spruce up the district’s athletic stadium, add on to the high school and buy land for future school sites.

There’s no money for a second high school in this bond issue, but that decision’s not too far off, Superintendent Kevin Riley said.

“Our direct needs now are for elementary classroom space,” Riley said. “As we get two to three years down the road, then we’re going to have to come back again and ask for that second high school, possibly third middle, possibly eighth elementary.”

Next school year, all five of the district’s elementary schools will be over capacity, he said.

Just over half the total raised by the bonds, $45.8 million, would pay to build two new elementary schools. Each school could handle up to 550 students.

The bond issue would include $9.3 million to acquire land for future schools.

The district’s athletic stadium would receive a $9.2 million expansion, growing from 2,000 to 3,500 seats, with expanded restrooms, concessions and press box. The stadium field and the soccer field will get artificial turf, he said. A practice field would be converted to parking for 300 cars, so the new turf fields will make up for the lost practice space, he said.

Gretna Elementary School would be renovated for $8.3 million.

There was some community interest in building a second high school now, Riley said. But it would be too expensive, he said.

“We knew that we might be able to pass it in the bond issue now, but we can’t afford the day-to-day operation yet.”

If housing and business growth continues, then future valuation increases will help cover those costs, he said.

Riley said the projected 3-cent levy increase is a worst-case scenario. The actual increase could be less, depending on the pace of housing growth, he said.

The large size of the bond issue reflects both the district’s needs and escalating construction costs, he said.

Brad Stauffer, chair of the pro-bond committee, said the district is only building what it needs.

The bond issue aims to finish some projects at the high school, getting it ready for when a second high school is built and opens, he said.

“They’re trying to spend a little money to upgrade what they have so that they don’t have to duplicate it, so that it will be enough to be used by both schools,” he said.

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joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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