Mid-Prairie School Board trims project list to necessities, two options
By Mary Zielinski
In a three-hour session aimed at trimming building projects to fit a possible $9 million price tag, the Mid-Prairie Board of Education Monday reached a consensus for 10 possibilities and two options for a planned April bond issue. The final decision for the bond issue likely will be at the Jan. 6 meeting and is not going to include the $7 million high school auditorium project. The district was unsuccessful in applying to the Washington County Riverboat Foundation (WCRF) for a $2.5 million grant to help with the auditorium. The grant possibility was a factor in the plan.
Asked by board president Jim Hussey to consider removing “big ticket” items from the building project, board members also looked hard at a second possible $3.4 million middle school gym and a $1.5 million Home School Assistance Program (HSAP) facility, leaving them as options. Both the gym and HSAP space currently are linked to a possible partnership between the district and the City of Kalona in which the city could build a community center near the proposed gym involving a 28E agreement between the entities.
During the meeting, board member George Schaefer voiced concerns about the plan with Kalona, noting that non-Kalona voters could see it as aiding only one town. Superintendent Mark Schneider stressed that it was approached as a plan that would save both a possible $1 million. A new center for Kalona would open up previous recreation area space in the city hall building to house the district’s HSAP, a move that would drop HSAP facilities cost by an estimated $1 million, an additional saving. The HSAP has 267 students, and both parents and staff involved in it have told the board that a Kalona location, near the library, is very desirable.
Top priority items are the middle school HVAC and window replacement, $2.8 million; new administration central office, $875,000; Kalona Elementary EC classroom addition, $1.1 million; Washington Township Elementary HVAC replacement, $200,000; high school office relocation, $500,000; Wellman Elementary kindergarten addition, $900,000; high school CTE classroom addition, $1.7 million; and alternative learning center (ALC) facility, $875,000.
Initial plans for the central office include having a finished basement level to house the ALC with a total estimated cost of $1.4 million.
The administrative office has been housed for the last 2 1/2 years in a construction trailer after serious problems were discovered in the former building on the site that led to demolition rather than remodeling.
Schaefer raised questions, as he has before, about the cost of a building “as an office for just five people.”
Hussey said it is more than that, that the building, that “it is the symbol of the district.”
Matthew Gillaspie of Piper Jaffray, who was there to detail bonding costs, noting he has been in virtually every Iowa school district and seen their administrative offices said, “There is none worse,” and "they should “be embarrassed by it.”
Estimated costs for the consensus items are $8.9 million. In his calculations for bond costs, Gillaspie used a $13 million figure that could see an 80-cent increase in the levy from $1.47 to $2.27. For a $100,000 residence, currently assessed at 54 percent of value, it would mean an additional $41 in the tax bill. He also warned that “the longer you wait, the higher the costs.”
The board also discussed waiting on the middle school gym until Kalona reaches a decision regarding the possible community center project. Kalona City Administrator Ryan Schlabaugh, who attended the meeting, said Kalona could not have a decision by February regarding its own bond issue. It would be more likely Kalona would seek a bond issue in September to finance what is currently estimated as a $5-$6 million center.
He stressed that the project will not happen unless “there are cost savings all across the board” for both the city and the district.
Schneider asked the board to consider a possible Phase I and Phase II approach with the first phase meeting the critical needs, and the second the middle school gym and HSAP facility. Hussey urged that the board “keep in play” the possible partnership with Kalona.
The list, including the two options, will be reviewed by Shive-Hattery, the district’s architectural and engineering firm, to seek tighter figures for the Jan. 6 meeting.