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The Building Committee for the Highland Community School District is composed of contractors, engineers and individuals familiar with building infrastructure needs. They have met quarterly for the last few years to assess the needs for the district’s building and grounds.
Over the last two years, their recommendations to the board have included replacement of the boilers in both the high school (completed in 2017) and the middle school (completed in 2018); replacement of the HVAC controls in the elementary (completed in 2018); construction of the bus barn (completed in 2018); renovation of the storage area into an FFA classroom (completed in 2018); installation of foam insulation in the ceilings for energy efficiency (completed in 2017); security camera upgrades at the high school (completed in 2018); and improvements in the bleachers in the baseball and softball complex (completed in 2018).
These projects were completed through district facility funds and Washington County Riverboat funds.
The district worked with Design Engineers out of Cedar Rapids during the HVAC work at the elementary. This came as a recommendation from the Building Committee after meeting with and interviewing several companies.
They did the design work and managed the project through the bid process, awarding of the contract and completion of the work at the elementary. The Board of Education then hired Design Engineers to prepare a study of the HVAC system at the secondary building to present to the Building Committee.
This study was presented to the Building Committee meeting this fall. The secondary building has been constructed over four phases throughout its history and as a result, has four different HVAC systems in place.
Parts of the building have old pneumatic systems while other parts have digital control. Some of the building has rooftop units while other parts have classroom units.
Some of the building has central air conditioning; some of the classrooms have window units and other parts of the building do not have any air.
While we have tried to connect all the systems under one control, we have rooms that do not heat properly in the winter and do not cool properly in the heat.
We have some classrooms that overheat to the point that we have to have windows open in the winter while other rooms need space heaters to try to raise the comfort level.
We have some areas where the air conditioning runs so cold that students and staff need to wear sweaters and sweatshirts during the warmest days. To say the current systems are very inefficient would be an understatement.
The plan presented to the Building Committee by Design Engineers was to replace the inefficient systems throughout the building with rooftop units for each classroom and common area.
This would include heating and cooling under one computerized system control. This would include computer controls to set temperatures and times throughout the year and events at the school This would include cooling for areas like the gym and kitchen areas, which currently do not have cooling.
The price tag on this work would be in the $2.2 million dollar range.
What intrigued the Building Committee the most was the fact that this would have a nine-year payback, which means the energy cost savings would pay for this renovation in nine years.
The Building Committee feels that the majority of major work needed in the district has been completed and with regular maintenance through facility funds, the facilities can be maintained.
The $2.2 million dollar expenditure is beyond the capabilities for the district’s current facility funding.
The Building Committee also recognized the fact that the district’s ESO has been working toward the replacement of the elementary playground surface and upgrades, an estimated cost of about $200,000.
We also discussed the needs of the Fine Arts Department. The instructors informed me their biggest need is to address the lack of adequate space for storage around the kitchen and for the fine arts area.
The fine arts currently are having to use much of the storage space and closets in and around the kitchen area and have had few district funds committed in recent years to address their needs. An estimated additional $200,000 would provide the opportunity to add storage space to the fine arts area that would free up the storage areas in and around the kitchen to better meet their needs.
The Building Committee decided to make a recommendation to the Board of Education at its November meeting for a bond issue of $2.6 million dollars to address these needs. A target date of August 2019 was recommended to the board.
A $2.6 million bond is a relatively small bond issue in comparison to what most bonds ask for. It would require a 60 percent voter approval during a bond issue vote.
A subsequent meeting was held with Piper Jaffray, a school financing service, upon becoming aware of this recommendation. The meeting was attended by the superintendent, business manager and myself along with the Piper-Jaffray representative.
What we learned is that a bond issue of $2.6 million could be paid out over a seven-year period of time if approved.
The district is currently in a period where property tax rates have fallen to a current low of $13.10. This is well below the state average for school districts in the state and the average for county school districts.
The district would be able to absorb this bond issue and be able to maintain that level of tax asking. In other words, the district would be able to complete this work through a bond issue and property taxpayers would not see an increase in their taxes. This is based on current enrollment trends and a 1 percent increase in funding from the state.
The Board of Education tabled the recommendation for further study. If they determine to move forward, they will work with a bonding attorney to have a petition drawn up. This petition would be given back to the Building Committee or some other community group like the ESO or Music Boosters as examples, to gather the necessary number of signatures required to hold a school bond election.
When the necessary number of signatures has been obtained, the petitions would be presented to the board, and they would make a final determination to move forward with a vote.
Copies of the Design Engineers study and recommendation are available upon request. Feel free to contact the business office for further information.