Archive for Wednesday, January 14, 2004

School board members weigh November vote on bond issue

25.5 million ‘very pricey’

January 14, 2004

If the Tonganoxie school district gets its ducks in a row, voters could decide on Nov. 2 whether to approve a bond issue for construction and renovation of schools.

And some board members are pushing to place the bond issue on the November ballot.

The plan favored by the administration and school board currently calls for about $25.5 million worth of construction, including:

  • $1.5 million in improvements at the elementary school.
  • $14.2 million for construction of a new 5-8 middle school on the district's 80 acres near Washington and Pleasant streets.
  • Almost $10 million in construction and renovation costs at the existing high school.

For any proposal to be placed on the Nov. 2 ballot, school district officials must finalize their plans by mid-summer.

However, Superintendent Richard Erickson and board members are adamant that the $25.5 million must be trimmed.

At Monday night's board meeting, board members agreed that the district's proposed plan -- although it would serve the district's needs -- was too expensive.

"I believe right now that the plan is too costly for what we're receiving," Erickson told board members at Monday night's meeting. "I believe that $125 a square foot is very pricey."

Erickson suggested looking for additional ways to cut costs, for instance, by using brick front walls, with block walls on the sides and backs of buildings.

"Somehow we've got to find ways to make changes to reduce that $125 a square foot," Erickson said. "If we can bring that cost down, we can reduce our prices significantly."

Board member Bob DeHoff agreed.

"I think the price tag is a little high at this point," he said. "But we run the risk, if we just start trying to get down to a price level that people will accept, that we're gong to cut it off at the other end. ... If we cheapen it up too much, why spend the money."

Board member Richard Dean said he's interested in knowing what community residents think about the costs.

"I sense, just in the people I've seen, that everybody's in favor of improving the school, but not in that big of a tax bite," Dean said. "Because that's not the only tax bite that's coming."

Dean said it's predicted that other taxes will rise.

"According to those numbers, you could easily see everybody's taxes go up $1,000 a year, including city, county and school taxes," Dean said.

Rick Lamb echoed Dean's remark.

"There's no doubt we're in a bind," said Lamb. "I hear both sides, I hear from people, there's a single lady in a home, when her taxes go up $30 a month it's a crunch."

On the other hand, with school enrollment increasing, something needs to be done, Lamb said.

"The cost of doing nothing is expensive, too," Lamb added.

Board members said more community input is needed.

The superintendent noted he plans to begin meeting monthly with the district's facilities committee again. The group last met in spring 2003.

Moore said it may be that the best way to determine what the community wants is by holding a bond election.

"Put it on the bond issue for November, let the folks vote and if we see that we're wrong, we'll start over," Moore said.

But before that point, he said, the price of the project needs to be reduced.

"I've said it before and I'm tired of saying it -- it needs to be trimmed down and it needs to be of smaller scope," Moore said. "... Let's move on down the road -- get it on the ballot."

To sell or not to sell

Board members also talked about selling off about half of the district's 80 acres -- land not required for construction of a middle school -- to help pay for infrastructure.

The school district purchased the land in 1992, paying $2,500 an acre, for a total of $200,000.

If voters approve a bond issue for construction of a new 5-8 middle school on part of the 80 acres -- southeast of the intersection of Pleasant and Washington -- it's estimated the school and grounds would use about half of the tract. The district then could sell the remaining 40 or so acres and use the proceeds to help pay for roads, sewers and water lines to the new school.

Art Hancock, a Tonganoxie Realtor for 26 years, said it's likely developers would be interested in the property.

"It's unusual to get 40 acres in the city limits," Hancock said. "There aren't that many other pieces of property that size in the city limits at this time."

Although Hancock declined to estimate the land's present value, he said similar pieces of property have been selling for about $5,000 an acre.

On Monday, school board members took no action on the idea of selling part of the property.

Managing the project

The superintendent on Monday asked board members to allow him to begin interviewing candidates for the position of construction manager.

A construction manager would work with the district and architects in refining the building plans and would supervise the construction process.

Erickson said he thought the district would save money by hiring a construction manager, instead of using a general contractor.

"My hope is that by hiring this construction manager, we may be able to negotiate his fee at maybe 3 to 5 percent and maybe save 5 percent on this project," Erickson said. "I don't know if that's possible, but I think maybe it's something that is an option to us."

By general consensus, the board gave Erickson the go-ahead to search for candidates.

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