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Guest View: Here’s the history on the plans for the Charles City middle school and high school

By Lorraine Winterink, Charles City

“ Should we really expect the youth of today to be stimulated in the same environment that we were 50 years ago?”

– Pat Ohlerking

I served on the Board of Education for two terms concluding in 2017. The discussion on the old middle school began in 2007 when the board considered upgrades and replacement of the 70-year-old boiler, heating and ventilation system and technology upgrades to the building.

Cost estimates at that time totaled $21 million.

The board then questioned, how did that compare to the price tag on a new middle school? Should the old school be saved or were there other options?

A committee of School Board members, teachers and stakeholders were formed to study this question, tour middle schools and discuss facts and opinions.

About 10 years ago, four board seats were open and those elected had a mandate to save the middle school. The community was quite passionate and 2,584 of the 7,201 registered voters came out to vote for the new board.

After the election and despite the mandate, Superintendent Dr. Dan Cox urged our new board to continue the quest, visit new and remodeled schools with the community in attendance and study the facts as advocates for our students’ 21st century education and the fiduciary guardians of our district.

In time, after thousands of hours, weekly board meetings for several years and analyzing everything, it was a unanimous decision to invest in a brand new building and single campus.

There are some members of the current board and community who have questioned our board’s integrity and ethics to build the new middle school, and it is time to review these facts and end that discussion now.

It couldn’t be clearer:

Phase I

Develop a single campus with the middle school adjacent to the high school:

• Middle school was built 40% smaller than 500 N. Grand to fit the current student population.

• Reduced building footprint saves operating costs.

• Financial savings of tax dollars due to lower operating costs.

• Single campus provided efficiency between the buildings including the ability to share teachers and staff.

• Yearly savings from the combined single campus were estimated to be $180,000.

• Budget was $18.5 million and funded by PPEL and sales tax revenue. (Our board lobbied in Des Moines every year for Supplemental State Aid and received scolding from legislators who challenged that we did not need more money because our district and many all over Iowa were stockpiling money in local banks instead of spending it, as was intended.)

• Note that the original plan did not include a competition gym. Two donors privately and graciously funded the added size, components, and equipment: Mike and Paula Molstead and O. Jay Tomson.

• Completed on time and under budget.

Phase II

• Plan to remodel high school to include cafeteria kitchen and build shared class space needed for family consumer science, band, chorus, career technical education to be utilized by middle school and high school.

• Funded by a general obligation bond.

• All circles would be demolished with a building built to span between the cafeteria and arts and science wing. This building would connect to the middle school providing better flow between the buildings and areas needed that were unaffordable in Phase I.

Phase III

• When the middle school loan is paid in full in 2029, build the auditorium with accumulated PPEL funds cash. Support the extras with fundraising.

• • •

This plan was our long-term road map for the district and was financially vetted and brought to us by Matt Gillespie from Piper Jaffrey. The feasibility and cash flow was sound then and into the future.

But then Dr. Dan Cox was promoted and left the district in 2018-19. Mike Fisher was hired and started over with new board-approved architects and abandoned the 2018 floor plan from the 21st Century Committee that was designed by BLDD, the same architect as the new middle school.

In the meantime, two ball diamonds and new lighting at the ball fields and the football field were completed with considerable fundraising to support these projects.

Finally, last year Dr. Anne Lundquist was hired and was able to bring the bond referendum to stakeholders for a vote.

We hope that this history lesson will correct any misinformation and clear up questions because perhaps you did not live here or were not focused on the school at that time.

We are also hopeful that our new board, as a team, will be visionary, focus on education and renovate our facilities to be up to date with 21st century standards, technology and curriculum.

Prepare our children for their future and that which they will inherit one day – not our past.

Recently, we learned that our 60-year-old building is really showing her age with severe electrical, sewer and heating and ventilation problems.

At the Jan. 8 board meeting, we learned that the high school kitchen has a problem that if not corrected could possibly get it shut down. However, the sewer problem may get it shut down first!

While our district invests about $800,000 from PPEL annually for repair and maintenance projects, the building infrastructure of the high school is really suffering.

The idea that the district can update the electrical, sewer, heating and ventilation problem areas with the $800,0000 PPEL budget, year after year, is unrealistic and dangerous.

Doing so would cripple the district from having funds available to repair anything else of size, purchase buses or technology. The budget would be depleted.

We’ve all seen the first bond referendum fail. During the facility survey over a year ago, 70% of 600 respondents had said they would support doing something to update the high school.

But something in that bond referendum facility plan led to its failure.

I urge the board to make the wise investment of $2,500 for an updated survey of stakeholders to educate themselves and gain a clear understanding of what will and will not be supported with a “yes” vote. Then, you will have a new starting point.

Some previous board members who have thousands of collective hours in project management and built the middle school would like to offer our assistance to collaborate with you in the spirit of “putting our heads together and help get it done” and to share our knowledge.

We have a 2018 floor plan that perhaps could allow stakeholders a choice, be option 1 of 2 which was developed by BLDD with collaboration from the 21st Century Committee of students, teachers, administrators, board members and community members.

All those who have served in this mission would like to see success in the next bond referendum and do what is best for our kids.

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