Voters asked for $2.3M bond

Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Purdy School Superintendent Stephen Chancellor points to a drawing of the new proposed addition to the schools that would include a FEMA storm shelter large enough to house all the residents in town. Chancellor asked the Purdy City Council to endorse the $2.3 million bond issue going to voters on Aug. 2, which council members supported without reservation. Murray Bishoff/

Passage will ensure first FEMA shelter in town

Voters in the Purdy school district will be asked on Aug. 2 to support a $2.3 million bond issue to cover the costs of building a FEMA storm shelter that would be enhanced to serve as both a new building for the early childhood classes and as the district's first performing arts center.

According to School Superintendent Stephen Chancellor, the district has received permission from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to enter the planning stage for developing a storm shelter. This served as preliminary notice that FEMA had committed funds for the shelter.

The exact cost of the project has not been determined. Chancellor estimated the FEMA shelter itself would cost $1.3 million, of which 75 percent would come from a FEMA grant. Providing the grant match and enhancing the facility to accommodate a performing arts center would boost the final cost by around $2.3 million.

Plans presented to school board members in March by Kirsten Whitehead with Paragon Architecture outlined the design for a shelter west of the current high school, taking some space used by the present preschool building and playground. The shelter portion of the structure would have seating for 775 people and additional standing room to handle 1,400, around 300 more people than presently live in the town.

Chancellor told the Purdy City Council that during a school day, the shelter would have the capacity to enclose all of the students, 100 adults and between 200 and 250 additional people.

The performing arts center would not have a sloped floor, like Monett's, or all moveable seating, like Cassville's. Chancellor said it would have permanent fixtures and serve to present band and choir concerts. It will also have an upper level with retractable bleacher seating. He felt the facility would have been big enough to house the 2016 graduation.

The structure would provide new classroom space for the preschool program and an additional high school class that would either house the band or the choir. Moving those programs would open up space inside the high school for the special education program, which has long needed better facilities, Chancellor said.

Passage of the bond issue would not result in a tax increase. Chancellor said the district positioned itself for the move by using a lease purchase to finance the gym entry remodeling and cafeteria expansion. A lease purchase does not tap into the capital projects fund (Fund 4). For the past two years the board has also prepaid its debt on its standing debt from previous bond issues, leaving its bonding capacity high enough to take on another major project. Voters are asked to authorize taking on the new debt but will not see an actual increase.

"It's a little bit like putting the balls under the cups and moving them around," Chancellor said. "It's what school districts so. People may second-guess our purchasing decisions. A lot of it comes in the complication of school funding and what goes where."

Chancellor approached the Purdy City Council asking for an endorsement of the bond issue, which will provide the first official storm shelter in the town's history. Council members enthusiastically approved the endorsement.

Since July 1, Chancellor has visited with individuals and businesses, seeking other endorsements and posting promotional material.

"We've had an absolutely enthusiastic response," Chancellor said. "More than not people are saying, 'We've been talking to everyone who comes into the shop. Can I put it up on Facebook?' People recognize it's good for our community."

The school district will still have to submit another round of applications and have them approved. Chancellor conceded the FEMA funding process is complicated, but felt the assurances received to date would secure federal funding. The ballot language was submitted before funding came through and discusses other construction as an option, which will not be necessary.

The new building would be designed to add more classrooms on the west side. Chancellor also has plans to add classrooms to the south of the elementary school and eventually extend a wing of new classrooms east, around the south side of the middle school that would ultimately connect with the agriculture building, east of the middle school, adding 10 classrooms. The new wing would not physically connect with the middle school, but would have a canopy between the two for easy traffic flow.

"We're working with Paragon on a master plan," Chancellor said. "Our plan to add classes is still on the table. It will be Phase 2 of our master facilities plan. That's why we're planning for it now, to get rough dollar figures to know how to plan and save, and hopefully put up projects that will be well received so the community will continue to be supportive. These things are well thought out. It's not a spontaneous purchase. We're going in knowing what we want to buy and how to pay for it."

If voters pass the proposal, Chancellor figured with final design work and bidding, construction would not begin until December. Then he anticipated the new building could rise in four months.

School will open next month without additional space, a concern Chancellor voiced to board members during spring planning sessions.

"We're going to have some crammed classrooms and maybe some mobile teachers," Chancellor said. "I think the staff sees the big picture and understands this is going to be a temporary inconvenience.

"One of the big things I heard in the public meetings when I started here was how dismal our preschool was. The new building will provide us with such an incredible improvement. Just adding one classroom and the preschool will relieve a lot of the pressure. We also now have a Phase 2 plan on the table to show how we plan to address our growth dilemma."

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