School proposal has lower price tag, big benefits for kids

Voters in the Broken Bow school district will head to the polls Tuesday, Sept. 13, for a special election to decide the future of the city's elementary schools. This is a new project and a new requested bond amount. After conducting a telephone survey in late April among the district patrons, the school board has reviewed the results of that survey and have come up with what they believe is the most practical solution for meeting the educational needs of Broken Bow’s elementary students. The needs of and demands on 21st century learners have changed over the past 50 years, but the facilities have not. Broken Bow Public Schools are faced with overcrowding in the primary grades, outdated and inefficient heating and little air conditioning, the demand for integration of technology to prepare students for living and working in the 21st century. In the survey of registered voters of the school district, citizens of the community have made it clear they do not want to close Custer school. However, more than 80 percent of those surveyed said they do believe there is a facilities need, and more than 60 percent indicated they would support a bond issue to meet those needs - even if it means raising their taxes as much as $200 per year. Respondents rated the need for air conditioning as the number one improvement needed, followed closely by additional classrooms and up-to-date technology. The board has listened to the community, and are proposing a project to renovate and add to North Park Elementary School and maintain Custer School as part of the school facilities. The project will add enough classrooms to provide four sections for each grade K-4, a multi-purpose room that will be used for P.E. class, indoor recess and assemblies, a media center, updated heating and cooling and a new roof. Custer School will then become a building for 5th and 6th grades. Some of the major benefits of the project include enlarging the kitchen at North Park and providing a separate place for P.E., allowing the students more time for lunch. "Because we are using every bit of available space at Custer, that allows us to make this smaller project possible," said Dr. Virginia Moon, BBPS superintendent. She says the district continues to experience higher enrollment in our elementary schools, and currently use two portable buildings at North Park to accommodate that growth. The west portable would continue to be used by the district with this new project, possibly serving the pre-school. The district is also seeing a greater number of children who need services outside the traditional classroom, and the current situation requires those students to meet in hallways and converted storage closets. The simple fact is - we need more space, and on that everyone agrees. The district has qualified for Qualified School Construction Bonds, which are very low-interest bonds, in the amount of $5.8 million. The project will be financed for 15 years through funds already allocated to the school by the state and federal government. The funds will reduce the net interest on the project to the current rate of a half of one percent. BUT, these funds are NOT available after 2011. “The board has been working on this for the last five or six years. With each effort, the problem doesn’t go away,” explained Ken Myers, chair of the board’s facilities committee, at the July school board meeting in which the bond resolution was passed. “It doesn’t look like we are going to be able to complete the project we need for under the $5.8 million. We really feel like we need to have our bond large enough to complete the project at North Park. This does, with interest, come in at less than half the cost of the last two bond issues.” This project will require a 9.45 cent levy. That means if you have $100,000 worth of property, the projected annual tax bill for this project would be $94.50, or just under $8 a month. If your property is valued at $50,000, your bill for the project would be $47.25, or just under $4 a month. That levy amount is also only 2 cents more than taxpayers were paying in 2009, because two bonds will have been paid off before this bond is issued. There is help available for those who would suffer hardship as a result of the increased tax bill - such as those on a fixed income, disabled military veteran or the elderly. The Custer County Assessor's office can tell you if you may qualify for a Homestead Exemption on all property taxes you pay. Another major difference in this project as opposed to those previously brought to the table, is the fact that there will be no phasing with this project - rather, it will all be done at once. The district will continue to use Custer for 5th and 6th graders. Using Custer will allow staff to focus on the unique educational needs of 5th and 6th grades, as they transition to middle school and high school. "We are creating an educational environment that will meet our student’s needs for the foreseeable future at the elementary level,” said Dr. Moon. This project does not include any improvements to any other buildings other than North Park. Those improvements are currently being done with money already in the budget and building fund. "It will probably take five or six years to complete improvements at the other buildings. While we can make those improvements a little at a time, you can't get $5 million a little at a time," Dr. Moon explains. Typically the school board cannot levy taxes for building projects without a vote of the public; a large general building project can only be accomplished through approval by district voters. Nebraska statute does allow schools to levy up to 5.2 cents for a fixed number of years by board vote for very specific purposes. Dr. Moon explains that the board, administration and staff have worked hard to identify the needs at all the schools facilities. In identifying those needs, the district has considered community desires, educational needs, structural issues and mandated programs, she says. The board agrees that while there are needs at all building levels, the needs at the elementary level have continued to be the most urgent. The low-interest funding available creates an opportunity to address those needs. Both Myers and Dr. Moon have commended Grant Craeger with CG Architects, the firm hired for the project, for listening to both the concerns and needs of the district and coming up with a project to address those, all while staying within the established budget amount. "The architect has done a good job designing the building around function to meet the educational needs of today’s learners, not just square feet," Dr. Moon added. B-D Construction of Kearney will work as Construction Managers at Risk on the project, and have also impressed Moon and Myers in the early stages. "They are willing to look at various options to get us the best project for the best money, and give local contractors a chance to bid the project," said Moon. Voters have until Sept. 2 to register for the special Sept. 13 election. Absentee ballots are available now through Sept. 12. All precincts will vote at the Municipal Auditorium. If you have questions about the bond and are not able to attend the Aug. 30 Open House, you may contact Dr. Virginia Moon at 872-6821, or visit the Broken Bow Public Schools website at