Committee recommends $49.3M Hastings school bond

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A recommendation for the reinvestment in the school district facilities in the amount of about $49.3 million was recommended by members of the facility committee at the May 24 school board meeting.

The facility committee, made up of 20 community members, have met eight times from January through April. The committee came to a consensus for seven different priorities including school safety; unfinished improvements at the middle school; deferred maintenance items; preparation for the high school aging to 20 years; 21st century learning; reinvestment in community spaces; and technology.

The largest chunk of the recommended bond, which would require voter approval, comes from the deferred maintenance piece in the amount of $39.2 million. The amount includes a number of items, but the biggest ticket items are the replacement of the HVAC system at the middle school and roof at the high school. Several of the items in the deferred maintenance area are items that were set aside from the bond in 2009.

Michelle Tjomsland, a member of the facility committee, said that those are items that cannot wait any longer.

When the committee toured the various buildings, Tjomsland said that in particular they could clearly see evidence of leaking at the high school and the air quality in the middle school wasn't great.

Community or shared spaces were another recommended area of investment with a total suggested investment of $5.73 million. Refurbishing Todd Field would cost an estimated total of $3.37 million which would include resurfacing the field with artificial turf and additional improvements.

With the condition of the current field, it is used an average of 40 days. Trent Hanson, athletic director at HHS, said that the field just can't sustain more use than what is already put on it.

"It's a dated piece of property that takes a lot of use and abuse, kind of the natural wear and tear," Hanson said.

An investment in Todd Field would increase the usage rate from 40 days to 110 days. It is currently only being used for varsity games but with artificial turf it could be used for more than one game per day and it could be used for practices. In addition, the community does not currently use the space, but community usage would increase to 120 days. That would allow an opportunity for more community tournaments in the stadium.

"It takes refurbishment and maintenance to keep it accessible and equitable and we just want to be great stewards of our historic property," Hanson said.

The remaining breakdown of the recommendation is as follows: $2.3 million for security items like cameras, upgraded locks, a more secure entrance to Tilden and more; $1.6 million for 21st century learning; and $500,000 for technology.

The recommended dollar amount surpasses the $42 million threshold that would have a 0 percent tax increase. The goal of the committee was to be at a 0 percent increase; however, Tjomsland said that when the committee quickly realized that they would not be able to accomplish much with the needs of the district and the budget shortages.

"Our goal would be to have (zero percent) but that is just not a reality because there are so many needs and there is just no budget," Tjomsland said.

The committee said that they wanted to be conservative about the tax increase, which is how they arrived at the recommended dollar amount that was presented. Paul Dotson, another facility committee member, said that there were just too many necessary repairs to the district's facilities that would be left undone if they stayed at the zero increase.

Dotson said that the highest priority for the committee was the health and safety of district students. After that, they wanted to re-invest in the facilities and infrastructure items that needed updating before the cost of maintaining them became prohibitive due to waiting too long. Even then, Dotson said that the committee had to scale back because they wanted to keep the tax impact at a minimum.

"We decided that providing for (district students) well-being and education at a level we could all personally endorse was not possible with zero impact to taxes," Dotson said.

With a recommendation from the facility committee, Superintendent Tim Collins said that the next step is for the school board to put together the final bond proposal.

"I anticipate that at our July school board meeting the district will take official action on the final bond dollar amount and projects attached to that amount," Collins said.

The bond dollar amount decided by the school board will be brought forward to the community for a vote in November 2017.