OPN updates board on current buildings, scenarios

Susan Bowersox of OPN Architects speaks to the Monticello School Board during the March 7 work session. (Photo by Pete Temple)
School Board
Pete Temple
Express Associate Editor

     An assessment of Monticello Community School District buildings and a where-we-are-now summary of facilities meetings were part of Monticello School Board work session March 7 in the Administrative Board Room.

     The board’s monthly work sessions are normally the second Wednesday of the month, but this one was moved a week ahead so it didn’t fall during spring break.

     Susan Bowersox and Roger Wolf of OPN Architects were on hand to present the firm’s findings to the board. They had been studying potential costs of renovating the district’s school buildings.

     The OPN assessment put the total cost of bringing all four school buildings up to code, and building a new transportation center, at $18,356,779.

     The bulk of that figure involves the middle school, which OPN estimated would take $10.55 million to renovate. Carpenter is at $3.15 million, Shannon at $2.93 million, and high school improvements – which would include moisture issues and improvement of the mechanical system – would cost an estimated $1.14 million.

     OPN also estimated that a new transportation center (for buses, etc.) would cost $591,250.

     Soft costs, which include architectural, engineering, financing, and legal fees, and other pre- and post-construction expenses; are not included in these figures.

     The assessments also highlighted some of the space situations in each of the school buildings and building sites.

     At the middle school, the average classroom size is 600 square feet, which is smaller than the average room size at Carpenter (900) and at Shannon (775). The high school has an average classroom size of 1,000 square feet.

     As for the sites themselves, the middle school sits on a 3.9-acre site. Shannon’s site is nearly double that, at 7.4 acres, while Carpenter is at 6.0 acres. The high school property covers 36.0 acres, according to the assessments.

     Then, OPN discussed some new building scenarios with the board. Just as they had at the last community meeting on Feb. 21, these seemed to boil down to a single question: Does Monticello want to have all its school buildings at the high school site, or split into two campuses?

     Bowersox said feedback to OPN and to the district office has shown an even split between those two ideas.

     Later, board members weighed in on what they would prefer.

     “In my personal opinion, unless we have a really good plan, I think one site would be a nightmare,” board member Mandy Norton said.

     Board member John Schlarmann agreed: “The (plan) I like best is doing something at Shannon, because we would be splitting traffic up. I do like the two-site idea.”

     Board vice president Dave Melchert questioned the concept of traffic congestion, which is a common thread among those preferring two sites.

     “We’re talking 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at the end of the day,” Melchert said. “If we just staggered the start times, I think the congestion goes away. So I don’t have as big a concern about that.”

     Melchert also questioned building on the Shannon site, which, other than the high school, is the most spacious and has been part of many OPN potential scenarios.

     “We got to the location we’re at (for the high school) because we couldn’t get anything passed,” he said. “Some people didn’t want to build at the Shannon location. That was 20 years ago, but that was how we got where we are.

     “If we’re leaning toward that site, we need to figure out why that’s never worked before.”

     Board members agreed that costs for any new construction will create a clearer picture of what the district could or could not do.

     OPN, which remains committed to a September bond issue vote, is planning to have those costs available at a meeting of the Facilities Committee on March 21. The next board meeting will be March 26 at 6 p.m. in the Administrative Board Room.

     Board president Bud Johnson and Melchert agreed that the district might not be able to build everything at once.

     “I think money’s going to drive it more than anything,” Melchert said. “My take is, we’re not going to be able to build a K-8 (building), and we’re not going to be able to build (both) a 7-8 and a K-6. I think the dollars are going to come back and say, you’re going to be able to build one type of building. Then we have to have discussions about what we are willing to live with.”

     Johnson agreed: “The wish to do it all is strong, but the money available is going to be an issue. So as much as some people might not like a piecemeal or phased-in approach, I think we need to consider that option in order to get the ball rolling.”

     Added board member Craig Stadtmueller: “We’ve got to get something that the community will get behind. If we present something the community doesn’t want, we know how that’s going to end.”

In other board business

     • The only other item on the agenda Wednesday was a district budget presentation, given by district business manager Marcy Gillmore.

     The property tax rate, Gillmore said, will decline for the third year in a row.

     While the total levy for fiscal year was $14.0649 per $1,000 taxable valuation for 2017 and dropped to $13.21257 for fiscal year 2018, the maximum the board can levy for 2019 is $12.77.

     “Part of the reason for the decrease in tax rate is the decline in enrollment,” Gillmore stated in an email interview on Friday. “But the biggest impact is because we have reached our capacity for our cash reserve levy. Last year we levied for over $396,180 in cash reserve, and this year we can only levy for $80,820.”

     The district received some good news recently, that it is able to apply the budget guarantee, stipulated by Iowa Code, for the second year in a row.

     Despite being told by financial sources and the Iowa Association of School Boards that a district cannot use the guarantee for consecutive years, Gillmore learned of another district that did so, contacted the Iowa Department of Management, and was told Monticello could use it as well.

     “That’s good news,” Superintendent Brian Jaeger said at the meeting, “because that will be helpful to our budget.”



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