R-5 patrons to decide bond issue

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Southwest R-5 School District patrons will have the opportunity to decide a $1.5 million bond issue on April 3. If approved, Proposition Safety will fund the construction of a new music room at the high school and new elementary and middle school offices.

"Safety is the main focus of this bond issue," said Bob Walker, Southwest superintendent. "The board had discussed this over the last three years.

"Our district has historically been a smaller district, and as enrollment has increased, additions have been made to accommodate the number of kids and classes needed," said Walker. "The number of entrance points we have and the level and ability to monitor security is a challenge. This is of no fault to the district, but we feel we need to address safety and provide a more secure campus."

Walker said that the R-5 Board conducted research to determine the estimated costs of the construction projects and determine the bond issue amount, which should not increase the district's debt service tax levy.

"If it was going to increase the debt service, I don't think we would be pursuing this bond issue," said Walker. "Over the last few years, we have been able to refinance our bonds to lower the balances.

"Our projected growth is as conservative as we can make it," said Walker. "We ran the numbers using zero percent growth over the next four years and only 2 percent growth beyond those four years. This was just one more step to ensure we were not accessing too much money."

Even though the district used a zero percent growth estimate when researching the bond issue, Southwest has experienced 1.3 percent growth over the last two years, said Walker.

"We feel we can access $1.5 million without raising the levy, which is important to our board," said Walker. "But as bad as the economy is right now, it is not a bad time to look at construction."

Last fall, the district completed an analysis of the campus layout to determine how security could be improved.

"There are things we need that are very important, such as the location of the elementary office," said Walker. "The office needs to be located at the main entrance.

"We also have students traveling between buildings," said Walker. "We have kids coming from the high school to the middle school for classes, which is from one end of our campus to the other. It is not that we don't trust our kids; it is that this is not the safest arrangement for our students."

With these safety issues in mind, the board is working to develop a two-part construction plan.

"The first part of the project is for a music room addition at the east end of the high school, which will serve the high school band and choir students," said Walker.

The second part of the construction plan will build a shared office area for the elementary and middle school principals and secretaries. The area will also provide a central location for the school nurse. The new offices will be constructed between the elementary and middle school buildings, east of the kindergarten through eighth grade cafeteria.

"We will have a single entrance that serves the middle school and elementary," said Walker. "This will provide a monitored reporting point for either building."

This portion of the construction project will also include the construction of a corridor connecting the middle school with the cafeteria. Currently, middle school students must walk across an open, uncovered area when going to and from lunch or drama classes.

"This will keep the kids inside out of the weather and provide a level of protection," said Walker. "This portion of the project is not in the final design stages yet, so we don't know the size of the corridor."

The new high school music room, which will feature smaller practice rooms, will add around 4,000 square feet to the high school facility. The new office area will add around 2,500 to 2,700 square feet of space between the elementary and middle school.

"The old office areas are obsolete because they are divided," said Walker. "We will look at removing some walls, but most likely we will move our elementary counselor's office to the elementary office area.

"The middle school office will probably be made into a smaller library area for our seventh and eighth grade students. Right now, those students are traveling to the high school. The fifth and sixth grade students use the elementary library."

In addition to the construction projects, Proposition Safety will likely provide funding to finish equiping the school bus fleet with cameras and add security cameras at all entrances. Half of the districts buses have cameras at this time.

Last year, Southwest received a Secure Our Schools Grant, which will provide $20,000 for safety cameras. The grant requires a $20,000 match, which has been included in the Proposition Safety bond issue.

Over the next few weeks, Walker and R-5 School Board members plan to promote the bond issue by meeting with several of the district's parent organizations. Large meetings will be scheduled for the general public in Seligman and Washburn in the coming months.

Southwest has hired Richard Werner to serve as project architect and Springfield Builders Incorporated to serve as construction manager for the project.

The Southwest R-5 School Board voted to place the issue on the April 3 ballot during its regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 19.

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