By LeAnn R. Ralph
GLENWOOD CITY — The two binding referendum questions that residents in the Glenwood City school district will be asked to consider in the April 7 election began with a community task force.
One of the community task force members was Todd Petersen.
Petersen said that both he and his wife are graduates of Glenwood City High School and that all three of their children attended Glenwood City schools as well.
“Our oldest daughter graduated in 2011, and our son will graduate this spring, and our youngest daughter in 2016,” he said.
“I have been involved in volunteering and coaching since my children have been attending grade school,” Petersen said.
“I helped lay sod on the football field on July 5th and 6th, 2013, two of the hottest days that summer. I helped assemble the bleachers on evenings and weekends with school administrative staff like Mr. Johnson and Mr. Emholtz, as well as many staff teachers. Community members, such as Dr. Skip Rasmussen and many other parents, spent countless hours volunteering labor. Not only did it save the school district some money, but we wanted to be proud of our and school and facility,” Petersen said.
When Tim Johnson, school district administrator, asked Petersen about serving on the community task force, Petersen did not hesitate.
“Mr. Johnson approached me and asked if I would like to be part of the task force to help decide what our school needs to make it better for our students, (and) I jumped at the opportunity,” he said.
“Even though my kids are almost through with school in Glenwood City, I know that there are safety and health concerns that need to be addressed at our campus,” Petersen said.
“Being a part of the task force, I got to see these concerns firsthand,” he said.
The task force divided up into groups and went on tours of the school buildings, both inside and outside, to see for themselves what needed to be repaired and updated. After the tours, members of the community task force compiled the items into a list, Petersen explained.
After that, Johnson researched the items on the list and found cost estimates. With the estimates in front of them, community task force members prioritized the list of items, he said.
Task force members presented the prioritized list to the Glenwood City Board of Education as recommended items that needed attention, Petersen said.
After receiving the recommendations from the community task force, the school board used the list to formulate Question No. 1 and Question No. 2.
Question No. 1 for $4.74 million includes moving the elementary and middle school/high school offices from the interior to the entrances of the building for safety purposes; remodeling the old offices for classrooms; remodeling a room for the Board of Education meetings; replacing the elementary school roof; installing new fire alarms; improving traffic flow in the bus and parent drop off and pick up area by the elementary school, and replacing the heating and ventilation system in the elementary school.
Question No. 2 on the April 7 ballot for $4.5 million would upgrade the heating and ventilation system in the middle school/high school.
“As a task force member, I witnessed firsthand some of the necessary maintenance issues. There may be cheaper ways to improve some of the items short term, but they are only short-term fixes. In the long run, it will cost more money so we’d like to get it right the first time,” Petersen said.
“The two questions have been confusing for people, partly because of the similarity in costs,” Johnson said.
Voter approval of Question No. 1 would be expected to add zero dollars to the property tax levy because an existing debt has been paid off, and the money currently used for debt service would continue to be used for the new debt.
Voter approval of Question No. 2 would be expected to add about $83 per year in school taxes per $100,000 of property value.
“It is very important that the community understands that we are limited to the scope of the project definition. If only Question 1 passes, we can only do the work listed under Question 1,” Johnson said.
“Probably more importantly, if only Question 2 passes, we are unable to use referendum dollars to perform any of the work in Question 1,” he said.
School district officials do not want Question No. 2 to be approved in isolation of Question No. 1, he said.
While it is true that property taxes for debt service would not increase if either Question No. 1 or Question No. 2 were approved, approving one but not the other would mean that many of the projects could not be completed, Johnson said.
Approving only one question would mean that the anticipated energy savings for a more efficient heating and ventilation system — estimated at $50,000 per year — would be much less, he noted.
Even though Question No. 1 would not raise the tax levy for debt service above where it is now, the binding referendum question must be approved by voters in the district in order for those projects to be completed, Johnson said.
If Question No. 2 is approved, the school district would only be able to do those projects listed under that question and would not be able to complete any of the projects included with the first question, he said.
Inflation and increased interest rates could be expected to increase the cost of the projects by perhaps five percent per year, Petersen said.
Interest rates doubling from three percent to six percent, “would have a great impact on overall cost,” he said.
A five percent increase on $9.72 million dollars could mean an increase in the cost of the projects by $462,000 if the projects were delayed for one year.
If the construction was delayed for two years, the projects could cost an additional $972,000.
Because construction costs always increase, usually because the cost of materials has increased, delaying the project for a year could cost taxpayers as much as replacing the elementary roof.
The roof on the elementary school portion of the building will be completely replaced if referendum Question No. 1 is approved by voters.
The elementary school was built in 1992 — 23 years ago — and still has the original roof, Johnson said.
“There have been issues with leaking. The leaking causes more damage, and those repairs cost money,” Petersen said.
“We have buckets in several locations within the ceiling to catch water. In one location, we have to remove the ceiling tile and catch water in a 55 gallon garbage can when it is thawing or raining,” Johnson said.
Replacing the elementary school roof would cost an estimated $500,000.
“Breaking down the costs for the individual components of the referendum is difficult without explanation,” Johnson said.
“Overlap in (estimates) occur when consideration for things such as — does the cost of the middle/high school office include the heating and ventilation, or is that considered in the heating and ventilation estimate?” he said.
In general terms, however, the costs of the projects can be broken down as follows:
• Construction of the new offices and reconstruction of existing office space into classrooms — $1.5 million.
• Fire alarm replacement — $200,000.
• Upgrades to technology — $200,000.
• Improvements to the exterior lighting, Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) access, elementary drop off traffic and parking lot improvement — $500,000.
• Elementary heating, ventilation, and filtration upgrades — $2 million.
• Middle school/high school heating, ventilation and filtration upgrades — $4.5 million.
If the referendum questions are approved by school district voters on April 7, then the bidding process begins with specifications for the projects, Johnson said.
Some of the technology upgrades or lighting improvements could begin in early summer, he said.
Fire alarm replacement and the elementary school roof would plan to be completed before school starts next fall, Johnson said.
Some of the more significant construction more than likely would not begin until in the fall, and then the projects would be completed before school starts the following year, he said.
The first of two informational meetings on the School District of Glenwood City’s April 7 referendum was held March 16 at the Glenwood City Community Center.
Another public informational meeting will be held at the Glenwood City high school library on Monday, March 23, beginning at 5 p.m.