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Jasper County Tribune

Baxter looking at building project for school

Potential $6 to 7 million bond issue scheduled for Dec. 11

Two town hall meetings were held to introduce the building project planned for the Baxter Community School District. Interested community members met Aug. 2 and Aug. 6 to hear from school leadership and the selected engineering firm, FEH Design, on why the work is needed, how it will benefit the district and the impact it will have on the city.

Baxter High School Principal Rob Luther started the discussion with why the project is needed now. He said it came down to three pieces, safety, learning environment and marketing, which all work together and are crucially important for the district.

“Truly the safety in our building absolutely has deteriorated,” Luther said. “We have a clean, well-kept building but time takes its toll when you have a building that is more than 100 years old or another part that is pushing 100 years old.”

According to the district, in 1996, the sections of the building dating back to 1916 and 1924, were renovated with the intentions of lengthening the life of the facilities by an additional 20 years. With that timeline in mind, the building continues in use 22 years later, with much needed updates looming for the school.

While the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, air quality, fire and security systems have been “grandfathered” in or meeting antiquated codes and regulations, they are severely outdated from a plant perspective. The district also found the 1916 and 1924 buildings no longer provide a fiscally responsible return on investment over time. The building plan would include a comprehensive facilities upgrade and construction project to address that and other issues.

Along with safety, improving the learning environment, in part, by upgrading it to 21st century learning, is a top priority for the district.

“What kind of flexibility can be generated that allows the room and the spaces around it to serve multiple functions in terms of kids being out of the classroom and working in small groups,” Tyler Riley with REH Design said. “We have more electrical demand, more WiFi demand. How do we keep up with that infrastructure?”

He said 21st century learning doesn’t necessarily revolve around the walls, the windows or the doors, it is a three-dimensional environment and, along with the design firm, he is working to make that happen in Baxter.

Through improving the safety and learning environments at the school, Luther said the marketing aspect will follow by being able to showcase a new and improved facility to prospective students and community members.

To accomplish the project, it is Luther and the district’s hope to gain support from the community to pass a bond issue planned for a vote date of Dec. 11. Major features of the project to be funded by the bond are replacing the current high school buildings from 1916 and 1924, including the science rooms/labs, FCS and classrooms, address long term solutions for campus parking issues and update and integrate the central plant for utilities. 

“Our science labs are embarrassing right now compared to everyone else around us,” Luther said. “I think we can beat them in so many areas of things we are doing, I can’t sell our science labs.”

What is needed to accomplish the projected 20,000 to 30,000 square feet of construction is approximately $6-7 million in funding. According to Piper Jaffray, LLC, the statistics of the bond issues are well within the district’s means and will have a minimal impact on the community.

According to the district, it is in a strong fiscal position and has been able to pay down debt, saving the more than $154,516 by making early bond payments. All debt is anticipated to be paid off by fiscal year 2019-20 in preparation for new construction and initial projections for property taxes show little if any change in the current rate should the bond be approved.

The district has set out a timeline to complete the project with it currently working to conduct program/project investigation, begin the schematic design and work through the design development phase. The district will continue to hold public forums to share progress with the community and a marketing campaign will begin for the bond referendum in December. BCSD will also navigate through budget meetings for each phase to establish a comprehensive construction project cost.

For more information about the project visit the district’s website or Facebook page.

Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or jpierson@newtondailynews.com

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