By Kerri Rempp Sioux County Schools PIO
The Sioux County School Board, after listening again to concerns presented in December, took action Jan. 11 to move forward with the next phases of constructing a new elementary school.
The Harrison Elementary School is not ADA compliant, and the district has studied possible solutions to the issue for the last several months. The district discussed its options at public meetings in December and presented a proposal to construct a new elementary west of the high school.
The board unanimously approved a parameters resolution with DA Davidson to secure financing for the project, which is estimated to require a 14-cent increase in the district’s levy for seven years. The board also approved Baker and Associates as the owner and engineer for professional services for the project in order to obtain final design plans.
Comments at two meetings in December and this month’s board meeting indicate support for the construction of a new school, though there are patrons who have expressed concern over the inclusion of a gym that can be used as an elementary cafeteria, P.E. and recess space and double as a practice gym for high school.
Jory Geiser was selected as a spokesman for the group against the current proposal, urging the board to seek a second architectural estimate for the entire project. He also added that the group believes the high school gym can be used for all the district’s needs.
Board member Joleen Falkenburg noted that the gym is used for activities other an P.E. classes, including band concerts, recess, geography day and more.
“We use it a lot,” said teacher’s aide Echo Juhnke of the current elementary gym, adding that different grade levels often have P.E. and recess at the same time, which would cause conflict in the event of bad weather.
Board chairman Shon Whetham said the project as proposed would require property owners with $1 million in property valuation to pay an additional $1,400 in taxes per year for seven years. Of that amount, $1,068 in taxes goes to construct only the grade school. Whetham said if the district constructed a commons room roughly equal in size to one-half of a gym to accommodate elementary needs only, that would add $248 in taxes per $1 million in valuation, with the final $82 paying to extend the gym to a full-sized facility.
Though conceptual drawings have been presented and an estimate provided for that concept, changes to the project are possible, Falkenburg said.
“We really are at the starting phase,” she said. The district will await final designs from the architect and then put the project out to bid with the goal of breaking ground this spring. If bids come in higher than expected, the board will have to re-evaluate its plans, Whetham said. The contractor selected for the project must honor its bid unless the board approves changes during construction.
The board also rejected Geiser’s idea of hiring a second architect, saying that Baker and Associates comes highly recommended having worked on projects at Fort Robinson, Hyannis, Crawford, Scottsbluff and Chadron.
“The meetings we’ve had with them are very professional,” said board member Dave Howell. Falkenburg added that the project, at an estimated $4.65 million, is relatively small scale.
“This isn’t a $100 million building. The plans are pretty basic,” she said.
Geiser also suggested the district hire a consulting firm to oversee the project to ensure that the school is getting what is legally required at a fair price.
Whetham agreed that the process is lengthy and complex, but with engineering and architects on board from Baker and Associates and Perry Law Firm reviewing the district’s legal obligations on the project, the school will be covered.
“With what Jory is asking, we already have this, in my opinion,” Whetham said.
Another member of the audience questioned the need for the facility if the state is able to come in and close the school if enrollment drops too low.
“Sioux County is unique. Because we are the only school in the county, they cannot come in and close us,” said Superintendent Dr. Brett Gies.
Parent Katie Krein voiced support for the project, noting that her high school students are often getting home at 8 p.m. in poor winter weather conditions when they have late practices. A second gym would allow them to be home and safe much earlier.
“A lot of the people saying cut (the gym) don’t even have kids in the system,” Krein said.
Scott Schaefer also told the board he favors the project as currently proposed.
“The design in my mind looks spot on,” he said.