A bond issue to construct a new junior high school will be placed before patrons of the Neosho R-5 School District again this August.
That action, discussed during a special study session of the R-5 Board of Education Thursday evening, will become official at the school board’s regular monthly meeting on Monday, May 19.
Brett Day, school board president, opened the discussion by saying that putting the issue back before voters on the August ballot, “says we’re serious.” Alluding to the April 8, 2014 elections in which a $24 million bond issue lacked the four-sevenths majority needed for passage, Day said, “There are ‘yes’ votes out there that we need to focus upon and get them out to vote.”
Dan Decker, superintendent, said the issue before voters will be the same as the overcrowding situation in the district remains, and will only get worse.
“So we feel like it’s very important to continue to try to do what’s best for kids and that is to find a way to build this facility so that we can reduce the overcrowding and keep all of our kids within the building in good classroom space that is safe,” he said.
Decker said that is important not only for the school and the kids, but also for the community.
Decker said he believes Neosho is losing out on prospective families that shy away from coming here when they see the many mobile units serving the schools. He also told the school board that the district has key people who are leaving because they get to teach in a building elsewhere. He said there is not much of a problem with older teachers who are invested in Neosho, “but the younger teachers will leave even for the same money.”
Decker said the fact that the issue garnered better than 50 percent support in April provides hope for a different outcome the second time around. He said the administration and board have heard from several people since the election who said they didn’t vote, feeling that it would pass, and others who didn’t vote for it because they didn’t feel they had the proper facts before the election, and would now support it.
“We can’t do away with our ‘no’ votes,” he said, “but as Brett (Day) said, ‘We’ve got to go out and get the rest of the ‘yes’ votes. We’ve got to get them to get out and vote.’” Decker said additional people have now expressed an interest in helping to push the bond issue.
“We have people in the community who are upset that the bond issue didn’t pass,” he said, “because they see the need. Our group of workers has greatly increased, and with that we are going to be able to reach some people.”
Decker acknowledges that some people voted against the measure because there was no solid representation of what the prospective building would look like. He said they were trying to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, and that is why no design was drawn beforehand, because they didn’t want to spend money on a project that voters had not yet approved. Decker said a full design drawn up by the architect costs more than $100,000, and to have colored pictures of a building would be about $50,000.
The board was presented on Thursday with a series of possible designs, and provided feedback on their likes and dislikes, to Eric McCune, architect, Sapp Design Associates, Springfield. McCune said he will put together a solid design for a junior high that the school board can present to the public.
“It eliminates any questions as to what a building that they might run for a bond issue would look like,” he said. “So that they know that it is a two-story structure, how the circulation on the site would work, what the organization of the building would be, what some of the materials would be, really what the front door might look like, what the gymnasium would look like — all of those elements — to narrow that down so that the public can understand what they are voting on.
“We don’t want to be extravagant, but we want to provide a good, solid functional school building.”
“At least we will have 18 new classrooms at the high school,” board member Jonathan Russell said, alluding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) shelter that will be constructed at that site.
McCune provided the board an update on the progress of FEMA shelters that are going in, also at South and Carver elementary schools. McCune said site work and underground construction and infrastructure work will begin as soon as school lets out for the term; and the pre-cast panels and double-Ts will show up through the summer and into the fall. He said the pre-cast boxes will show up at the high school in September, in October at South, and at Carver in November.
“A lot of the work will continue concurrently, but the main, critical path item is the pre-cast concrete on all the projects, so that’s how they’ll sequentially go,” McCune said.
McCune said some obstacles will have to be overcome, particularly at the high school. For instance, the drive in front will probably not be accessible to the public, as it will be a construction zone. The egress out of the building is being worked out with the contractor, Branco Enterprises.
McCune said he expects the FEMA shelters to be completed by next spring, or fall 2015 at the latest.