School bond referendum Aug. 12: Not a light decision

Note: District 88 is seeking funds to build a new high school and remodel existing sites, with a bond referendum on Aug. 12. The following article is the fourth of five articles to address some questions about the referendum.

Q: Please elaborate on the process that was used to arrive at the decision to call a referendum.

A: Last fall, the district established a task force to study facility needs, recaps Superintendent Jeff Bertrang. A call went out to all community members, and district leaders contacted others, to get a wide cross-section of members. Some 30-35 people signed up to participate and attend four meetings. Board members attended to watch the process and hear from community members.

Four two-hour meetings were held, in December, January, February and March. The meetings included presentation of information and small and large-group discussions. Each one ended with tasks to complete.

The following information was shared at the meetings:

Staff survey results on all programs in the district and what is needed but not available currently.

Information on the current state of facilities and programs in all buildings.

Architectural options to meet the needs for all programs.

Population trend and class size reviews.

Possible tax impact based on the project size and duration of bond.

Options proposed and considered included:

New PK-12 building on one site ($100 million)

New PK-5 building and new middle school/high school building ($110 million)

New PK-4 building somewhere; remodel Jefferson/high school for 5-12 ($55 million)

New high school and remodel Jefferson/HS for MS campus ($48 million)

Add classrooms, gyms, performing arts, commons area between Jefferson/HS and remodel Washington ($29 million)

Remodel and do minimal changes, trade St. Paul’s Lutheran Elementary School for Washington.

Do nothing

The group held a conversation about the options and community investment of resources. It looked at square footage costs for remodeling and new construction under several options. Costs were updated, as the task force refined what options were most viable. A review of tax impact was provided.

“The group consensus was, if we are doing this, do it right. Don’t use a band-aid approach.

“Lots of discussion took place on what makes the most sense in the long run,” said Bertrang.

The group established a priority list:

Upgrade facilities for safety at each site and around bus loading/unloading areas

Update classrooms to meet space requirements

Add physical education and athletic spaces

Build a performing arts center

Provide for community education and community spaces

New spaces for current and future programs

Provide more room for PK programs

At the School Board meeting on March 27, the task force recommended the following:

Build a new 9-12 high school complex with green space for fields, including space for updated programs and classroom requirements

Remodel and update Jefferson for grades 1-4

Remodel Washington to be a PK, kindergarten, ECFE and Community Education center

Remodel the existing HS to become a 5-8 middle school.

On April 24, the School Board decided to propose a ballot question to the voters.

A: Why not the decide the issue during the general election in November? Are you trying to sneak this bond under the radar by having a vote Aug. 12 when many voters may not be paying attention?

The board considered a primary vote or general election vote. The decision to run the election with the primary was so that the public would be able to know that information, and not have it get lost in the general election with the governor’s race, senate race and all state representative seats up for election, notes Bertrang.

Another factor was timing. Three additional months would provide more time for design, specification development and bidding for a spring start. Waiting until November would push this out to a summer start, losing prime construction season.

Bertrang adds that recent changes in absentee ballot voting rules make it easy to use this option, which helps voters planning summer travel.

For those concerned about summer travel, changes in state law make it easy to vote via absentee ballot.

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