On Nov. 5, voters in the Hutchinson School District will decide whether to approve a $28.8 million bond referendum to renovate Hutchinson's pre-kindergarten and elementary school spaces.
Renovations would include West Elementary and Park Elementary. For more detail on the proposed plan, see the sidebar on page A5.
Large projects such as this one naturally come with a lot of questions. Here is a list of frequently asked questions and answers:
How was the plan developed?
Teachers, staff and community members partnered with the school to discuss needs for elementary school and pre-kindergarten spaces, and discuss potential layouts. Multiple surveys also sought community input on the most important needs for the school.
Why pursue this project now when voters approved a $45 million high school project in 2015?
"In 2015, the school looked at a K-12 facility study," superintendent Daron VanderHeiden said. "At that time, we decided to focus on the high school specifically, but if you go back in time to (bond referendum proposals in) 2008, 2006 and 2002, those projects involved the elementary schools and the high school, and they weren't successful."
As a result, the school decided to split the projects apart. VanderHeiden said that in 2015, the school reminded those attending public information sessions and presentations that the district still had other needs. He added that, more generally speaking, Park Elementary needs upgrades soon.
"Can you imagine having a house from 1938 and still having all the (original) mechanical systems in it?" he asked. "I think most people understand the need."
Why not move out of Park Elementary?
"Our community really values Park Elementary," VanderHeiden said. "We are compromising in the way that we will keep the (original) 1938 portion. We will renovate it to be a modern building when we are done. It will still look like Park, but have modern amenities."
The building is structurally sound, and the 1938 portion is cost-effective to renovate. The 1956 addition has more problems and will likely be demolished, which would also make room for parking off city streets.
The original portion faces the east and includes the auditorium.
The school has split high school and elementary needs into two bond referendums four years apart. Has doing so increased the price tag from previous attempts where projects were pitched together?
"It's still equal to or less than prior bond referendums where we asked for both," Vanderheiden said. "That high school, at $45 million, was a great value. Interest rates were down, construction prices were reasonable. We had good timing."
What about security needs?
Secure front entrances were recently added to Park Elementary and West Elementary, with access granted through a buzzer system in the building offices. Other doors are locked during the school day. Park Elementary's secure entrance came with new construction near the auditorium, which was part of the high school bond referendum project.
The proposed addition of a parking lot behind Park Elementary, and a proposed reorganization of grades means students would no longer need to shuttle to another building for a bus ride home. Students at Park Elementary would no longer load and unload from city streets. The proposed plan also includes more separation of staff, visitor and bus parking.
What will the schools look like?
The schools have not been designed yet. Even layout plans are preliminary and meant for discussing building needs. If a referendum is successful, community members, teachers, staff and students will be asked to take part in design groups to finalize a layout and appearance.
Are more projects in the works after this one?
"There is nothing else on the long-term facility maintenance plan other than regular maintenance on the buildings," VanderHeiden said. "There are no major building plans following this. We feel like if we are successful in this, it will set us up long term (for) birth to grade 12."
What will the proposed project cost residents?
On a 22-year bond, starting on taxes payable in 2020, the project would cost:
- $143 per year on a home valued at $150,000,
- $170 per year on a commercial property valued at $100,000,
- $1.42 per year on an agricultural homestead (average value per acre of land and buildings) worth $5,000, and
- $2.83 per year on agricultural non-homestead land (average value per acre) valued at $5,000.
The burden on agriculture property is reduced by 50 percent due to a state Ag2School tax credit. For instance, the $1.42 per year mentioned in the example above would have been $2.80. The credit will increase incrementally until 2023, when it will be up to 70 percent.
Voters will decide on something called a bond referendum on Nov. 5. Schools also periodically ask voters for operating levy increases. What's the difference?
Bond referendums are used specifically to finance bonds, which can be used only for building and maintenance projects needed to maintain district facilities. Operating levies are used to set a dollar amount district residents pay in taxes to the school based on enrollment, with money garnered in this way to be used for operating expenses.
A common phrase used to explain the difference is "bonds are for buildings, levies are for learning."
What is the project timeline?
The final plan will be designed if voters approve funding. Construction would start in the fall of 2020 and be completed by the fall of 2022. Plans would be made to disrupt classes as little as possible.
When and where do I vote?
Election day is 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the Hutchinson Recreation Center, 900 Harrington St. S.W., Hutchinson.
Where can I learn more?
Visit isd423.org/bond-referendum-election-information for concepts and presentations related to the project.