The age and inefficiencies of Beatrice Public Schools’ preschool and elementary buildings was once again a lengthy discussion during the school board meeting Monday evening.
This led the board to approve Johnson Controls to create a facility business plan outlining preliminary development and design ideas, and do a cost analysis for different purchase options.
Superintendent Jason Alexander reiterated that all four buildings have fire code violations, health code violations, ADA compliance issues, and security and surveillance issues.
“This summer, we’ve had multiple issues with one of our elementary schools, everything from dumpster fires to windows being shot out in that particular school, and we have no security cameras there to address that,” Alexander said. “All the way up to things that we most recently have experienced in our world, which are fresh air ventilation systems that are out of date, and quite honestly returning air that comes from the ground for our elementary students. These are all issues that we did present to the board in a previous meeting, and have been exploring different options to address those issues.”
Alexander said the school board is a long way from making definitive decisions about the buildings, but that working with Johnson Controls helps the district understand what options they have available to them outside of a bond issue.
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Vince Ardito from Johnson Controls said a bond would be the most preferred way to finance the project, but noted that they failed election in the district as recently as September of 2015 and November of 2016.
Hydo Properties owner Todd Hydo said something similar during the public comment portion of the meeting, telling the school board a bond issue could be difficult for the community as they’ve already committed to one for the new Beatrice Fire and Rescue station.
“We’re a small enough community, it’s kind of one person to the well right now,” Hydo said. “Obviously, it’s the fire station. One public works at a time. You have to let one get over with, let the dust settle a bit, and then the next up gets to do their project. Whether it’s a school project, whether it’s a city project or whether it’s a county project. What I’m saying is it’s hard to do two big public projects in Beatrice at one time."
Ardito and Alexander explained the district is looking to have a long-term lease purchase paid for by reallocating money from the general fund to the special building fund.
Alexander said the district budgeted eight cents to the building fund levy in last years’ budget, and that this year they could budget 10 cents.
“Now there’s also some question marks that come along with that statement about not raising taxes, and that’s very specific as well,” Alexander said. “Nobody has a crystal ball as to what’s going to happen in the unicameral with taxes in the future. Nobody has a crystal ball as to what’s going to happen with property values and so forth. So I think those are all things that we have to be cognizant of, but we have to ask ourselves how imperative is it for our students to be in a structure that takes care of all those issues that we talked about. Ultimately, it comes down to within our budget a few cents.”
Ardito said the district is considering a maximum 120,000 square foot preschool through fifth grade building estimated to cost $40 million. He said Johnson Controls can work with the district to make it a design-build lease-purchase project.
“It’s a lifecycle approach, and you build these to last like armored tanks so you know you get the best,” Ardito said. “The cost coming in is going to be higher, but the cost over time is going to be less going forward.”
Alexander said while this addresses the elementary buildings, it does not take care of Beatrice Middle School, which is facing similar issues.
“And that’s where as a board, and I think as a community, we have to come together and say okay, if we can do this within our budget to take care of the PK-5, can the community come together and help us out with these very same issues that exist in our middle school,” Alexander said.
“There are lots of ways to generate revenue to offset some of those costs,” Ardito noted. “That’s not an ugly building that’s down there. It’s a very nice building for downtown, and you can actually turn it into something else and generate revenue to offset the costs of the new middle school there. We do that all over the country, and it’s highly successful. We just don’t know with the elementary that there’s a lot you can do with those. But with the middle school, there’s probably some way you can find 40% of your costs right there on just repurposing it.”
School board member Erin Chadwick recalled that during the previous bond issues, the community’s perception of the district was very poor.
“I hated that, because I was excited to send my kids to school,” Chadwick said. “I just want the community to feel comfortable with our decision, and have them be a part of it.”