G-R holds first school bond public information meeting
REINBECK — The Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District moved one step closer to updating its facilities on July 26 by welcoming members of the public into the conversation through both a community input meeting and building tour.
After successfully collecting enough petition signatures — and subsequently adopting a resolution to order a special school bond election for Sept. 13 — the district is now embarking on selling the issue to taxpayers and the community-at-large.
Roughly 20 people attended the two-hour informational meeting/building tour that began in the Junior High/High School auditorium. Members of the public were joined by several school board members, including board president Donovan Devore, who gave opening remarks.
Also in attendance were G-R Superintendent Erik Smith, Andrew Bell with Align Architecture, Dan Keagle with Peters Construction Corp., and G-R High School science teacher Tom Boheman.
Smith — entering his third year as G-R superintendent — provided the initial welcome to the audience. He began by highlighting one of the district’s five guiding principles, improving facilities to meet student needs.
“Over the past two years, we have spent many hours analyzing current facilities, reviewing our needs for all of our students and programs, and determining our best path forward — which has brought us to where we are today,” he said.
Under Smith’s guidance and with the help of both the district’s building and grounds committee and a facility task force, the G-R school board has determined the best path forward to be a bond referendum for $23.605 million in general school obligation bonds to address a host of facility needs. Needs include HVAC system upgrades in both the Jr./Sr. High School and elementary buildings, making every restroom and floor level handicap accessible, a gym expansion at the Jr./Sr. High School, classroom additions to the elementary school, secured entry in both buildings, and renovations and updates in both buildings.
“As a school district, we are committed to providing the best possible learning environment for our students,” Smith said as he closed out his remarks. “And I believe this is the best way for us to accomplish this goal and move forward for the future of all the families of Gladbrook-Reinbeck School District.”
President Devore spoke next and addressed what many might view as the elephant in the auditorium – the district’s decisions over the past few years to both stop using the school buildings in Gladbrook and subsequently tear down the complex. Demolition of the Gladbrook building is ongoing but set to finish this summer.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush,” Devore said. “[O]ver the last seven years the G-R district has gone through … the Gladbrook campus closure to right-size the district for our teacher-staff ratio – keep that in mind – and then we also had the dissolution vote. But during both of those events, we had fantastic support from the G-R community and profoundly stated that we would charge forward as a district as Rebels.”
Devore went on to briefly highlight many of the needs of the district before sharing that the two-year facility study came about rather modestly – with a conversation in the hallway after a school board meeting.
Later in the meeting, Bell with Align Architecture gave an overview of the facility needs of the district, sharing that the initial impetus for the facility study was the need for an elevator in the four-story Jr. High/High School building. Currently, the 1921 brick building – which consists of a basement and three floors – only has a chair lift that connects just two floors.
Bell also shared there is no air-conditioning in most of the student spaces in both buildings.
“Specifically for the elementary school, that’s what closes the district,” Bell said. “So on the sweltering days when we don’t have school because of the heat, that’s directly inhibiting learning environments.”
The Jr. High/High School building – in which the public meeting was held – also suffers from an overall lack of air circulation. Many in the audience were fanning themselves as they sat in the spacious auditorium.
“This building had a ventilation system,” Bell said. “There’s multiple points where there are some very large ventilators in this building but that got shut down quite a while back. We get some ventilation from the exterior windows but mechanical ventilation is kind of a must in Iowa and that’s one of the major pieces of what we’ll be investing in in infrastructure.”
Prior to Bell’s presentation, veteran high school science teacher Tom Boheman – who recently celebrated 40 years of service with the district – spoke to the audience as an individual intimately associated with the district and its facilities.
“[T]he only thing that’s been here longer than me is the building,” Boheman said eliciting some chuckles from the audience. “In [my] 40 years I’ve seen a lot of changes – a lot of faces. I think I’m on like seven or eight superintendents, seven or eight principles. A lot of changes. What really hasn’t changed a lot is the building.”
Boheman went on to describe the many changes education has gone through in his 40 years.
“You’d come into the room and sit down. You listen to the teacher give their presentation, get your homework, take it home, come back the next day and do it again,” Boheman said. “Well, that school has kind of gone away with the dinosaurs – it’s extinct. We don’t do things that way [anymore]. … We’re trying to do a lot more learning and less teaching.”
“So the schools that you and I went to are gone. We’re in the 21st Century now. Unfortunately, the school we have is built for a 20th Century school.”
Boheman then provided examples from his own teaching and curriculum that have run up against the constraints of a 20th Century school.
“Now don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of what we do,” Boheman continued. “We’re doing a great job here. … [But] you’re never good enough, you can only be better. And I think if we’re going to get better … move on towards good and excellent … we have to provide the kids the environment they need to do that.”
Boheman then shared that as he inches closer to retirement, he realizes he will not get to experience all the positive changes the bond referendum could bring to the district.
“The honest-to-God truth is, though, it’s not about me, it’s about kids. It’s about the community,” Boheman said in closing. “I think we owe it to the kids to give them every chance we can to help them succeed in the 21st Century.”
Tour and next steps
After Bell’s presentation, the group embarked on a tour of the building which took place on a hot, humid, sunny evening in Iowa which meant the school was baking. As members of the public moved from the lower floors to the upper floors, many remarked on the marked change in temperature.
“If it’s sunny, it’s hot,” remarked a G-R elementary teacher who was part of the tour.
Safety and security were addressed as part of the tour with several individuals expressing concern that classroom doors in the building only lock from the outside.
The tour was conducted in a fairly informal way which allowed members of the public to look around at their leisure. The gym was closed due to a recent waxing but almost every other area of the Jr. High/High School building was explored.
Following the tour, the audience returned to the auditorium for an encore performance from Bell during which he addressed many of the specific upgrades the bond referendum could pay for in both buildings. Members of the audience were also allowed to ask questions.
Dan Keagle, the district’s construction manager, then gave a brief presentation regarding early cost estimates for the project if the bond referendum passes.
Keagle’s best judgment on cost — bearing in mind future cost escalation, he said — puts a price tag of $26,327,382 on the project which he said would ideally begin in the summer of 2023 and reach completion in the summer of 2025.
Keagle emphasized his estimates were not set in stone.
“It’s a pretty complicated chessboard,” he said.
At the elementary school, Keagle estimates the unit price — cost per square foot — for classroom additions to be $287.50 and interior renovations to be $103.60.
At the Jr. High/High School, Keagle’s unit price estimates include an east addition ($341.54), a west addition ($303.23), gym and music addition ($277.22), 1921 building renovation ($123.74), 1968/2004 building renovation ($106.72), technical education building ($67.38) and fitness center building ($20.17).
If the Sept. 13 bond referendum passes — to pass it must be approved by at least 60 percent of those voting in the election — those funds will be combined with $8.25 million in school infrastructure revenue bonds (SAVE bonds).
A public hearing for the SAVE bonds is set for Thursday, August 18, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Jr. High/High School commons.
As the meeting drew to a close, Jerry Gallagher with Donovan Group — hired by the district to provide public relations services around the bond issue — shared that a community survey his firm conducted earlier in the year showed 77 percent of the more than 300 individuals surveyed strongly agree or agree with the list of facility needs being addressed by the bond issue.
In response to a question, Gallagher shared that the breakdown in survey participants between the Gladbrook and Reinbeck communities was commensurate with the communities’ population ratio.
The next informational meeting — the second of three — is set to take place in Gladbrook on August 24 at 6:30 p.m. Further details regarding the location have not yet been made public.
The Gladbrook meeting is scheduled to address the financial aspects of the bond referendum including the impact on taxpayers.