BOND VOTE IS JUNE 30

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

 

Voters in the communities served by Central Community Schools will go to the polls Tuesday, June 30, to decide the fate of a $6 million bond referendum. If the bond passes, work at the school would begin next year and finish about 36 months later. If voters reject the plan, the school board could be forced to readjust spending priorities.

“There’s no fluff in the proposal,” said Central principal and superintendent Nick Trenkamp. “These are things that have to be done to address safety and accessibility issues. Without the bond, there will still be things that we will need to do but they’ll be done at the expense of other priorities.”

Trenkamp has spent the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote meeting with technical, professional and social organizations and clubs ranging from area fire departments to a women’s fitness group. When possible, he’s brought people to the school for tours to show them some of the challenges students face including the building’s 22 different elevations, which impede movement from one area to another; a commons/cafeteria space that’s undersized for the numbers of students it serves; narrow corridors; and an IT classroom can’t be used because of safety concerns. 

The school does not have a security system. Only one door remains unlocked during the school day and visitors are urged to register at the business office counter. There currently is no way to strictly enforce that request, however.

“When we started looking at all of the improvements and upgrades needed we soon realized that a bond was the only way to address all of our needs,” said Central School Board president Kristin Fitzgerald. “Otherwise, we’d just be piecing things together—a change here, a change there and no real long-term solution.”

In order to pass, the referendum will require a “yes” vote by 60 percent of the people who go to the polls Tuesday or who have already voted in absentia. If passed, taxes on a home assessed at $100,000 would increase by $137 a year. The increase for farmers with more than 500 acres would be more but would be based on the assessed value of the land and not its market value.

It’s been 43 years since Central last passed a bond. 

Both Trenkamp and Fitzgerald have fielded questions about alternatives to investing $6 millions in an older building. Some have wondered whether a new facility might be a better option.

“There’s no way we could build a new school for less than $20 million,” Trenkamp said, “and that’s just the building. It doesn’t include land or equipment.”

The $20 million price tag exceeds the school’s bonding capacity of $16 million. In addition, a new facility simply isn’t needed. According to an assessment report submitted last November by Struxture Architects, the Central K-12 building is in general good repair though many accessibility and safety concerns must be addressed. 

“I’ve had people ask me if we should consider building a ‘county’ school,” Fitzgerald said. “Even if that was something we could afford, it’s likely it would be built somewhere other than Elkader. Do we really want to take the school out of our community? I don’t think so.”

Trenkamp and school board members are also regularly questioned about the district’s long-term viability. Some wonder about Central’s financial stability and projected enrollment, both of which currently are solid.

“We had some financial difficulties a few years ago and everybody knew about,” Fitzgerald said. “We dug out from those financial difficulties but we haven’t been cheerleaders for the way we turned things around. Bottom line: The district is in good financial shape and we’re looking forward to serving our communities for many years.”

Trenkamp added, “Nobody can say with certainty how things will be 20 years in the future. We can only look at current factors and make the best decision possible based on the information we have now. Central’s current enrollment is 450 students; projections for the next couple of years look similar with possible increases.

“One thing we considered was West Central,” he continued. “Their current enrollment is 265 students. They just invested $7.9 million into an addition. If you look at Central’s enrollment the past five years, we average a loss of six students a year. At that rate, it would take 31 years for us to get down to 265 students. This strongly indicates that Central will be here for the life of the bond (20 years) and beyond.”

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