New elementary: Now comes the hard work

MEEKER — Meeker School District Re-1 board members Tuesday night were reminded that approving the new elementary school was just the first step — now they have to sell a $24 million bond issue to voters.
Board members created a bond campaign committee to meet at 5:30 p.m. July 17 in the school board chambers at 555 Garfield St. The bond campaign committee will be responsible for fund raising for campaign activities, setting priorities and the means of public communication for the campaign, according to Dan O’Connell of RBC Capital Markets. RBC will underwrite the bond issue.
O’Connell said the committee should be chaired by a respected citizen who is not directly connected to the district or the schools. Some committee members will come from the schools, others will represent other community interest groups, such as agriculture and business. Strang and board member Dr. Paul Neilson will be the primary district representatives on the board.
November’s school bond issue will increase residential property taxes on a house with assessed valuation of $180,000 from about $140 a year to about $230. That figure accounts for rising home values, O’Connell said. Strang pointed out that is much lower than the high in 2000, when a $125,000 home was assessed $404 a year in school property taxes.
“Small business (tax rates are) not as pretty,” O’Connell said. Agricultural property also would be taxed at a higher rate than residential property.
The new elementary school is estimated to cost under $17.4 million, or about $250 a square foot.
The balance of the funds raised from the bond issue will be used for safety and other improvements at the middle and high schools.
Board Vice President Ed Coryell asked why the cost has seemed to go up so much since the beginning of the discussion for a new school.
Since the beginning of the design process, the requested building size has grown about 10,000 square feet, said Don Weidinger, vice president of business development for Neenan Archistructure, the project’s construction and architecture consultant. The additions include preschool and kindergarten space, developing the “pod” concept of classroom design and other factors.
Possible safety projects include water drainage and air quality improvement for the high school agriculture and wood shops and a new roof for the middle school. Board members agreed to choose the projects based on need, available funding and continuing building evaluations.
Weidinger said the advantage of using a firm like Neenan is that the company can establish agreements with suppliers and contractors that lock in costs. Neenan would then have incentive to finish the project on budget since their profit would be affected by added costs.
“We get commitments for costs before construction,” Weidinger assured the board.
During the project, the board would be primarily represented by a board-appointed “owner’s representative,” most likely District Superintendent Dan Evig, Weidinger said.
After bond approval, the first couple months would be spent getting permits and adjusting the design for site factors, such as soils issues.