Bond passes, lawsuit follows, Part I- USD 410 facility-improvement projects approved by slim margin

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Although the lawsuit filed by a patron last week to prevent the sale of bonds throws a wrinkle into the process, Unified School District 410 will be taking the next steps in the coming weeks to move its capital-improvement project closer to reality.

Voters approved the district?s request to sell $6.625 million in bonds to finance the four-phase project by a vote of 465-404 in a special election last Tuesday held at two polling locations in Hillsboro.

At the Wohlgemuth Music Education Center on the Tabor College campus, voters from Hillsboro?s East Ward and five rural townships east of town approved the project 240-155.

But at Hillsboro City Hall, voters from Hillsboro?s West Ward, the cities of Lehigh and Durham and the western rural townships voted 200 in favor of the project and 240 against.

Superintendent Gordon Mohn said the uniqueness of the bond question, which included projects at four sites, likely contributed to the relatively close outcome.

?While we looked at it by saying there?s a variety of things people would be attracted to, there also would be a variety of things that might cause someone to be opposed to it,? Mohn said.

?You might think the Tabor-USD 410 deal (to build a new football and track-and-field facility) is a great deal, but you shouldn?t go out to AMPI (to relocate the central offices).

?Then the uncertainty with the AMPI building (following a fire in April) could cause the vote to be closer, and there?s been some reluctance and resistance with the arrangement to share facilities with Tabor.?

Mohn said factors unrelated to the project itself could have had an influence on the outcome, too, including the likelihood of a poor wheat crop because of the Easter-weekend freeze.

Mohn said it was his sense the support for the project may be stronger than the vote might indicate.

?It?s so hard to predict this kind of thing,? he said. ?You assume if you?re passionate about the issue, particularly if you?re passionate against it, you?re more likely to vote.

?So you?d think if you truly measured everyone in the district, you?d probably have a wider margin of support.?

More than the narrow margin of victory, Mohn said he was disappointed by the 33 percent turnout of eligible voters.

?I guess we ought to always be disappointed when about a third of registered voters vote,? he said. ?But if you look at a lot of elections, that?s not all that unusual, especially when it?s a one-issue (ballot), and when it?s this time of the year. All of that plays into it.?

Next steps

Mohn said the board?s next steps will focus take it in two directions?preparing for the sale of the bonds and finalizing the project design.

Mohn expected the school board to approve at its June 11 meeting a resolution that would officially authorize the sale of the bonds.

?Right now, that?s scheduled to take place early in July so the board can approve the bond sale at the July board meeting,? he said.

?The motivation for doing it that quickly is that we?re in a climate where it?s more likely that interest rates will increase than decrease,? he added. ?It?s not very likely they?re going to increase a lot, but when you?re in an atmosphere where rates are increasing, you want to get them sold as quickly as you can.?

Regarding project design, a representative from the architectural firm of Howard & Helmer was expected to attend Monday?s meeting to help the board choose one of two approaches to working with a contractor.

The design-bid-build approach, in which one contractor is selected on the basis of the lowest bid, is considered the more traditional method.

Mohn said the Tabor-USD 410 task force is leaning more toward a ?construction management at-risk? approach, in which the district would enter a contract for professional services.

?The advantage is that when you do the construction-management side, you?re buying a service,? Mohn said. ?When school districts buy services, we?re not subject to the competitive-bid law.

?We don?t have to bid, so the board can go out and weigh the costs as well as the quality of their service.

?The scary thing when you design-bid-build, any qualified low bidder gets the project.?

Regardless of the direction the board goes, the next few months will be spent completing the design phase with the hope of beginning construction very soon after the end of the 2007 football season.

?That?s a pretty tight timeline,? Mohn said.

?In fact, we took the risk that (the bond issue) would pass and began the design phase with Howard & Helmer May 1. So they?ve been working on it for a month now. So we?re a little ahead on that.?

Mohn added that the architectural firm would not charge for those preliminary services unless the bond was approved by the voters.

Mohn said the architects will help create a timeline for starting construction on the various phases of the project.

?One of the first things here (at the elementary school) is we have to have AMPI ready to move into before we can do a lot here,? he said.

?And we have to look at traffic issues at the high school and student-safety issues at the high school.?

If construction begins on the athletic facility right after the 2007 football season, it might be ready to use in time for the start of the 2008 season.

?But that won?t even be a guarantee,? Mohn said. ?If there?s a horrible winter, or there are some unforeseen construction issues, we may not be able to play on it at the beginning of the (2008) season.?

Technically, decisions made about the shared athletic facility will have to go through the respective boards of the partner institutions, Mohn said, but he added the Tabor-USD 410 task force will be the ones working directly with the architects to develop the recommendations.

?We?ve had three or four meetings already on the details of design, trying to solve some issues,? Mohn said.

?That will be an ongoing process.?

Tabor College administrators working closest with the athletic-facility project were out of town Monday and not available to comment about the college?s perspective on the outcome of the election or the filing of the patron lawsuit.

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