By Jessica LeDuc
Blade staff writer
Voters in the USD 333 Concordia school district will vote in less than a month on a $5.5 million bond question. Monday night, the district was host to an informational meeting at Concordia Elementary School to give an overview of the project.
On Tuesday, Nov. 5, voters will vote on whether the district should issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $5.5 million to pay the costs of building, equipping and furnishing an addition and improvements at CES, which will include classrooms and a FEMA-approved storm shelter; and installing energy conservation measures, including HVAC replacement at CES, as well as lighting and other improvements district-wide.
Superintendent Bev Mortimer said the $5.5 million bond issue for 20 years includes $2.89 million for the HVAC replacement and energy upgrades and $2.37 for the FEMA safe room. The total project is estimated to cost $5.26 million, but the requested $5.5 million bond will cover any contingencies and finance fees.
The bond would be financed by 3.97 mills. Mortimer said only two of those mills will be "new." The current bond and interest mill levy for the district is 1.97, which is being used to pay off the bonds used to construct CES in the late 90's.
The advantage of bringing the bond question to voters, Mortimer said, is the district's ability to receive up to 40 percent in state aid for the project if it is approved. With that state aid, the $5.5 million project would cost patrons of USD 333 $3.3 million. Without the 40 percent state aid, the mill levy would go up to 6.626 to fund the entire project, costing the district the full $5.5 million.
"We can do it through a bond election and get state aid, or we can do it on our own through our capital outlay and get no help from the state," Mortimer said.
Mortimer said it took nine mills to build the elementary school. Since then, the mill levy in the bond and interest fund has dropped every year.
"It's down to 1.976 on that because that's all we need to ask the public for to make that bond payment," she said.
Looking back, Mortimer said, she probably wouldn't have lowered that mill levy as much, because then the money would have been there for the current project.
"We would have just had to ask voters to leave that mill levy as it was, but we didn't want to ask for it if we didn't need it," she said.
The proposed bond issue includes several aspects. One is the replacement of the heating and cooling system at the elementary school. Mortimer said the current system cannot regulate temperature or humidity like it should, which has resulted in mold throughout the school. In addition, energy use at the school is $1.16 a square foot, which is the highest in the district. District maintenance staff and outside contractors also spend countless hours repairing and maintaining the HVAC system.
The other big ticket item in the bond issue is the construction of a FEMA-approved safe room at the elementary school.
The shelter would include four classrooms, restrooms, storage, and a computer server room at a cost of $2.37 million. The 7,299 square foot addition would be a free-standing addition that would house 611 people. The elementary school is the only building in the district without underground or reinforced shelter areas.
The safe room, to be built using the most up-to-date FEMA standards, would not just be a shelter, but include classroom space. It would also house the computer server, keeping all district information safe in the event of a disaster, Mortimer said.
"We can spend the money to build something we can use daily, rather than just a shelter that sits out there unused," Mortimer said.
Greg Vahrenberg, with PiperJaffray, the district's bond counsel, said low interest rates make this an opportune time for the district to issue bonds.
Alan Maish, one of two citizens at the meeting, questioned architects on the number of square feet in the storm shelter. A representative of PBA Architects said FEMA has standards for square feet requirements, which is what the plans were based on.
Mortimer also said the shelter would not be limited to only CES students and staff. She said the district will be working with the city of Concordia to offer it for use during the summer months, especially when there are activities at the Sports Complex. She also said it would be available during the Cloud County Fair in the event of severe weather.
"A number of people there (at the Fair) are from out of town, and would have nowhere to go," Mortimer said. "We look at this project as a benefit to the whole community."
Maish said he was upset that there were no specific plans for the project, and that the size and price seemed to have increased from an informational meeting he attended this summer.
Mortimer said it would cost thousands of dollars to have the plans drafted, but once the bond issue passes, the architects will be working on them.
The project cost is currently an estimate, Mortimer said, but she has a guarantee from the architects that the project will not exceed $5.5 million. It could also be lower, she said, which would result in a smaller mill levy increase.
"I'll put my job on the line that these guys will do what they say they will," Mortimer said. "Because if they don't, I didn't find the right people to do the job, and I failed the district."