Weighing the options

Closing Walnut St, razing 1917 building among the options considered at North Tama special board work session

Members of the North Tama School Board participate in an exercise meant to narrow their options for a long range master facility plan during a special board work session Tuesday, August 31. From left to right, board president Rod Zobel, Superintendent David Hill, Val Bradley, Haley Blaine, and architect Nicholas Kent weigh several of the options. Photo Ruby F. Bodeker

The North Tama School Board whittled their long range master plan for facilities from nine options down to three during a special board work session on Tuesday, August 31.

Architects Devin Kack and Nicholas Kent with the firm Plunkett Raysich Architects (PRA) were in attendance and provided slightly more depth plus a price tag for each of the options presented during the August 16 regular board meeting.

“This [process] will not conclude tonight by any means,” Kent said in his presentation. “We’re not going to make any decisions tonight, we’re not there yet. This is a process of taking that broad scope and starting to focus it down and narrow in on some things that make sense for the community.”

The options — each complete with a concept design map — were placed on giant Post-its around the room. A packet further detailing the options was distributed to both board members and the dozen or so members of the public who were in attendance.

Following more than two hours of discussion between the architects and board members — as well as questions from the public — the three options the board advanced include:

Option 2-Elementary school west addition and modernize the existing school.

Option 4-New elementary school on adjacent west parcels connected to the elementary school repurposed for the high school.

Option 6-Expand the high school on adjacent east parcels.

The price tag for each option assumes a 2023-2024 construction timeline to be completed in one phase and does not include maintenance costs.

Maintenance costs would add another $12-14 million, according to the architects, and would include maintenance to the athletic fields and playgrounds.

The price of each option also does not include any land acquisition.

Each of the options were developed assuming the enrollment trend for the district remains flat but includes room for up to a 15 percent bump in enrollment.

After discussing the options in detail with the architects, the board settled on several general ideas they liked including staying together as a district on one campus, eliminating the 1917 building, adding an auditorium if possible, improving parking, acquiring Walnut Street to the west of campus as opposed to large amounts of private land, and weaving maintenance costs into whichever option is eventually developed.

The addition of a new or expanded/renovated competition gym somewhere in the final blueprint was also an idea continually revisited by both members of the board and Athletic Director Secretary Patty Calderwood who was part of the audience.

Option 2 has an approximate cost of $12-14.5 million and would involve acquiring Walnut Street to the west in order to construct a new elementary school addition.

The existing elementary school would be renovated, as would the art room, the weight room, and the kitchen, while the gymnasium’s acoustics would be improved for performances.

The administrative offices would be reorganized and a pupil services suite would be added. The JH/HS would also undergo some renovation and new construction.

Option 4 has an approximate cost of $30-33.5 million and would also involve acquiring Walnut Street in order to construct a new two-story elementary school with its own main entry.

The new school would occupy what is now the Dennis Field basketball courts and playground. Play areas would be relocated on what was previously Walnut Street.

The old elementary school building would be renovated into high school core curriculum classrooms. The 1917 building would be razed and replaced with a single-story addition with a new JH/HS south entry.

The weight room would be expanded, industrial arts updated, and dedicated storage areas for each department would be developed.

Option 6 has an approximate cost of $32-35.5 million and would include expanding in the opposite direction of Options 2 and 4. The district would acquire a building parcel to the east of the current high school to construct classrooms.

The 1917 building would be razed and a new addition would be constructed to house displaced programs. There would be a new south entry for JH/HS and would include a new administrative and pupil services suite.

The existing elementary school would be renovated, the gymnasium’s acoustics would be improved, the weight room would be expanded, industrial arts would receive an update, and dedicated storage areas for each department would be addressed.

The architects will now refine these three options further in both the plans themselves and the cost estimates.

As the work session drew to a close, Superintendent David Hill provided the board with an update on the financials as it relates to any long range facility plan that is advanced.

“It really has to be a long term plan … there are a lot of different ways to generate funds for projects like this … some of those involve public votes … but regardless of how you do things, there is a real limit to how much you can borrow at one time and that is based on the assessed property value in your district, which is also always a moving target,” Hill said.

Hill shared with the board that at this time, the school district’s limit for borrowing at one time is approximately $15.9 million, funds which could be accessed through a combination of funding mechanisms including SAVE (one-cent statewide sales tax), Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL), and general obligation bonds.

Any long range facility plan that is advanced, Hill said, will more than likely need to be completed in phases.

“We do have to think big picture and long term because we know that North Tama is going to be here for 20 to 25 years down the road but what are our facilities going to be?”

“If we don’t have a vision that we’re headed towards then it is just going to be the flavor of the month — whatever is the loudest squeaky wheel, whatever seems to be the greatest need right now, whatever bandaid we can put on things sometimes.”

Several members of the public were in the audience during the work session including Jared and Marilyn Bauch who have lived in the Traer community for 51 years and whose four children attended North Tama Schools.

The Bauchs liked the direction the school board was going during the work session.

“We need to not be concerned about closing a street,” Marilyn said. “It makes good sense. And to work toward moving out of our 1917 building and into better spaces is very, very important.”

“I’d like to keep a central campus,” Jared said.

“I think we’ve got a good school board who is very engaged in this process,” Marilyn said.

No formal board action was taken during the work session Tuesday evening.

Further announcements regarding North Tama’s facility study will be announced on the district’s website. The next regular school board meeting is set for Monday, September 20 beginning at 7 p.m.