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A preliminary study has helped the Monticello School District answer some questions concerning facilities upgrades, but there are still plenty of queries for the school board to answer before any formal plan is adopted.
Should there be less buildings when all is said and done? Of the 16 plans generated at a public brain-storming session, is there one that stands out? Can the board cherry-pick between plans to come up with an ideal plan for local school buildings? With the current state of school funding, is this the best time to discuss facility upgrades? Or is it the ideal time since newer buildings cut operating costs?
Superintendent Vic Zimmerman emphasized the study by school architects BLDD is much more of a jumping off point than a formal plan.
“There have been no decisions made, there’s no recommendation made by BLDD to the board,” said Zimmerman. “It’s just something to think about, with some cost numbers attached to it.”
Those cost numbers range from $26 million for upkeep of current buildings over the next 30 years, to an $84 million plan that would include a new high school and consolidate elementary schools at the current high school.
The high-cost scenarios – another one proposes four new schools – will likely be off the table quickly, said Zimmerman.
“We’re not going to build four new buildings, so that one’s gone,” he said.
At the same time, if there is one thing the study showed, it’s that less buildings could benefit the district.
“If we are going to do something with our facilities moving forward, it does make sense to have less buildings when it’s all said and done,” said the superintendent, who estimated the district could save $600-750,000 a year by closing White Heath Elementary.
“What was very clear (in the study) is we’re better off with less than five buildings,” said Zimmerman.
The study is available online at www.sages.us.
BLDD personnel will now be able to put their twist on publicly-generated options and create the next round of discussion by the school board, but that will probably not be available for a couple of months.
“Board members and administrators will then work to develop an understanding of the various options and potential revisions to form their own opinions,” said Sam Johnson of BLDD in Decatur.
“This can take some time, and usually involves asking us to explore and illustrate various options. It’s a process of iteration, and reiteration,” he added.
Zimmerman said the process does not need to be rushed, but hopes there is consistent discussion on the issue.
“It would be a couple of years before a referendum is passed, but if you don’t talk about it now, a couple of years goes by pretty fast. Maybe a couple of years from now CPPRT (revenue) comes back, EAV goes up. But even if it does, we still have four out of five buildings that were built before 1924,” he said.
He was also impressed with the wide range of options that were generated at October’s brain-storming session. Some that he did not consider were the possibility of converting the 2003 middle school into a combined elementary school and building a new middle school, and adding on to the middle school and put fifth graders at that site.
Despite uncertain funding from the state as well as replacement tax proceeds, Zimmerman said the district could see some wiggle room as building bonds are paid off, the last ones in 2019.
The bonds were taken out in 2003 to construct the new middle school, add on to White Heath and the high school. In addition, $300,000 in borrowing for life safety work will be paid off in 2013.
"It may give us an opportunity to do something," said Zimmerman regarding the bond payoffs.
“That’s what was cool about the process,” said Zimmerman of the three public meetings held in September and October.
The issue will probably not be discussed in-depth at the Jan. 16 meeting of the Monticello School Board, but Zimmerman said it could be back on the agenda at the Feb. 20 session.