Archive for Wednesday, April 14, 2004

School officials whittle at bond issue total cost

April 14, 2004

The Tonganoxie school district continues to hammer on a proposed construction plan.

At Monday night's meeting, board members listened to construction managers and the architect, learning more about the proposed plans, and the costs. It's likely that during the May 10 meeting, board members will vote on whether to put the bond election on the November ballot.

The original plan, estimated at $25.6 million, called for construction a new 5-8 middle school on the district's 80

acres, transforming the existing grade school into a K-4 facility and remodeling the junior high/high school buildings into a 9-12 campus.

Since meeting with the public at three forums, the architectural firm and construction managers have made changes to the plan. These are alterations suggested by voters, both which would be made at the high school campus.

The first would be the installation of a covered walkway that would run from the southeast area of the present junior high building across the parking lot to a proposed addition to the high school. The cost is estimated at $54,600.

Next would be construction of a building trades building. The cost is estimated at $1.8 million. However, only $1 million would be included in the bond election. To cut costs, students in Steve Hughes' building trades class would finish the interior of the building, and materials for the inside work would be purchased through the district's capital outlay fund.

In searching for ways to trim construction costs, construction officials have looked at alternative materials.

For instance, Scott Hoisington, a construction manager with the Turner Construction firm, said it's possible to use metal buildings without sacrificing quality. Metal could be used in areas such as the gymnasium of the middle school and cafeteria, Hoisington said.

And, it's possible to cut costs by using rooftop heating and air conditioning units.

Another way to save money would be to use pre-cast panels instead of using traditional brick block masonry throughout the construction.

By the time the construction managers and architect finished calculating these changes, which include the added costs from the walkway and vocational building, the cost of the total project had dropped slightly, to $25.3 million.

You can buy them

In talking to the public, school Superintendent Richard Erickson said he was asked if district patrons could invest in school construction bonds.

Erickson soon learned that this is possible.

"Local patrons could contact the school and we would put the investors on a list and turn that over to the bond consultant," Erickson said. "When the bonds are listed he would provide our patrons with the first opportunity to invest in the school bonds."

The length and amount of the bonds could vary.

"If an investor wants to invest in a $5,000 five-year bond, there is that flexibility," Erickson said. "Or if an investor wants to invest in a 25-year, $10,000 bond, there is the flexibility to do that, as well."

Erickson has also learned how to help patrons to cover tax increases caused by a successful school bond election.

Erickson said the Homestead Act provides up to $600 in aid to taxpayers who have incomes of less than $25,000 a year and are 55 or older. It also applies to taxpayers in this income range who are disabled or who have dependent children under the age of 18.

Mill levy

With the help of the school's bond consultant, Roger Edgar of the George K. Baum company, Erickson has learned that Tonganoxie currently has the lowest mill levy among 20 area school districts. The current mill levy for the Tonganoxie school district is 43.24.

If the bond issue passes, and if the term of the bond is 25 years, Tonganoxie's mill levy would increase to about 59.4, which would put Tonganoxie at 11th place among the 20 school districts.

A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of property valuation.

This is a good time to start a construction project, Erickson said. He explained the state currently pays the financing of 30 percent of bond issues. And, when opening new schools, the state also pays scheduled start up costs for the first two years. This would amount to $7.6 million for the state's portion of bond payments, and a total of $800,000 in start up costs, for a total of about $8.4 million from the state.

Architect Jim French said he realized that district voters generally don't like to see taxes increase.

"I think the thing the board is going to wrestle with the most is the amount," French said. "The bottom like is, we're going to have to decide is -- is this OK for the community -- we're working on getting the numbers down as low as we can."

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