Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 26 October 2010 16:42
If Unified School District 410 hits its targeted start date of “on or before Jan. 1, 2011” for its central-office and transportation center complex, three and a half years will have passed since the project was initially commissioned by voters.
It originally was included as part of a $6.625 million bond issue patrons approved June 5, 2007, that included a new football stadium in partnership with Tabor College as well as additions to the high school and elementary school.
A lot has happened since the vote.
Lawsuit and a fire
Almost immediately after the vote, a USD 410 patron filed a lawsuit to block the projects. Funding for all but the stadium was released fairly soon and the entire suit eventually was settled.
Meanwhile, the targeted location for the central office changed twice. It was originally proposed as a renovation within the city-owned former AMPI building at a cost of $475,000. But a fire the following spring called into question the longterm integrity of the building.
The board then bought 10 acres along North Adams Street with the intent of building a new facility. But architectural estimates for that project exceeded $1 million and was deemed by the board to be unaffordable.
When Midway Motors announced it would be building a new auto dealership along U.S. Highway 56, the board negotiated an agreement about two years ago to buy the old facility at the corner of D and Date streets for $395,000.
The facility, built in 1965 and expanded in 1975 provides 15,862 square feet in total, including 4,330 for offices.
“The board discovered we could get twice as much square feet for half the price of building new,” Noble said of the purchase.
Then the economy tanked in 2009. The future of General Motors—including the Midway dealership in Hillsboro—was in question for a time.
Even when that crisis passed and Midway was reassured of its immediate future, the recession caused property valuations to decrease in Kansas. That, in turn, affected tax revenue issued to schools and other public institutions.
Once again, the district’s project was affected.
“The state has cut equalization aid out of capital outlay,” Noble said. “We used to get an additional about 25 percent state matching funds of what we generate locally (through property taxes) to fund our capital outlay because we’re a poor district, valuation-wise.”
But because agricultural property valuations within USD 410 remained relatively stable compared to residential and oil-and-gas properties elsewhere in the state, 410’s rank among other school districts actually climbed, meaning less state equalization aid than had been anticipated.
That threw a monkey wrench into the board’s intention to spend $250,000 on the Midway remodel.
The district has about $150,000 left of the bond-and-interest money earmarked for the project and almost $700,000 in its capital outlay fund. But the district needs a sizeable reserve in the capital outlay plan in case of major facility emergencies and repairs, Noble said.
“If we had used all the bond-and-interest money, the bond-and-interest mill levy would have jumped by 3 mills,” Noble said.
To avoid a local property-tax increase in tough times, the board accepted Noble’s recommendation at its recent meeting to use the $150,000 in bond-and-interest to pay down the debt.
One other financial factor is an outgrowth of the recession: Tax collection rates have gone down in the USD 410 area. It was as high as 95 percent five years ago, but has slipped to 90 percent this year as strapped taxpayers ask for extensions or ignore payment deadlines.
“We will eventually collect (extension money), but not in this budget year, and that doesn’t help us,” Noble said.
Hoping for good bids
The board is proceeding with the hope that bids for the project will come within the $250,000 cap. If they don’t, the board may decide to pursue the project in phases over time, Noble said.
The priority phase is the office area, which includes new exterior walls to replace the large, energy-inefficient showroom windows on the building’s south end.
“We’ll insulate the walls and have more standard, energy-efficient windows,” Noble said.
A second phase that could be delayed would include a new board room and some back offices.
A third phase would be a double-door vestibule entry to the offices on the west side of the building.
For all the delays and headaches, Noble said the new central office and transportation center is an important project for USD 410.
First, the project will have a major cost-saving benefit. Once the project is completed, the district, for the first time, will be able to keep all of its buses under a roof.
“We’re very excited about that,” Noble said. “I’m not saying it will be that way all the time, but significant number of nights we will have our buses inside, particularly when bad weather is coming.
“That does a couple of things for us,” he added. “Our buses will then start and run better on a cold morning, and the wear and tear on our buses will significantly decrease because they won’t be in the elements all the time, like they are now.”
The timeline for rotating a bus many years ago was seven years. It was changed a few years ago to 10 years. With the new facility, Noble projects a rotation of 12 to 13 years.
“The No. 1 thing we battle over time is not the engine and transmission, it’s electrical wiring and connection points—things that get corroded and rusted out in the elements,” Noble said.
“Over time, if you’re waiting another two or three years (before replacing a bus), you’re saving significant capital outlay budget dollars.”
Better economy also will be achieved, Noble said, because district employees that currently are scattered in various locations around town will be working in close proximity.
“That, in my opinion, will only increase efficiency in communication, in working and in operating day to day,” Noble said.
A second major advantage the new facility will bring to the district is freeing up space for classrooms and learning that currently is dedicated to storing supplies and equipment.
“One of the board’s goals (for the original bond proposal) was to consolidate under one roof all the district-office stuff,” Noble said.
“The maintenance department right now is in the back of the (high school) ag shop,” he cited as an example. “Because we buy our paper in bulk from Baker Bros., we take up a whole room (in the elementary school) for our paper products.
“We’re going to move all that to the district office,” Noble said. “We’ll be freeing up classroom space and using those rooms for kids and teachers.”
One more advantage of the new facility will be better access for patrons. During this interim time, the central office currently has been located in the basement of Emprise Bank with no elevator access.
“Many of our patrons are senior citizens and don’t do stairs very well,” Noble said. “Stairs aren’t a big deal, but they’re kind of big deal. We need to be accessible for our public.
“Now we’ll be more accessible being on the main floor with no stairs.”
The project is currently in the bid process. Vince Jantz of Jantz Construction, whom the board appointed as project supervisor, is in the process of soliciting sealed bids from contractors.
The bids that are submitted by the deadline will be opened at a special meeting of the board.
“The board will take no action that day,” Noble said. “The supervisor collects all those bids, goes back and vets the bidders to see if they’re responsible companies.
“Jantz Construction will not be privy to those sealed bids,” he added. “The board gets to see them first because he’s going to bid on some parts of the project, too.”
Once Jantz vets the bidders, he will make recommendations to the board on which bids to accept, based on his research.
“The board will have the authority at that point and time to say we’re not going to do it—the bids are too high, or whatever,” Noble said.
“I don’t anticipate that will happen, but the board has the authority to make that call.”