May 21, 2024

Newton schools provide west side configuration option at Thomas Jefferson

Woodrow Wilson considered too small, board members provided cost comparisons

Newton school board members discuss the configuration options which now include a west side option, but data shows it may not be the most economical choice.

School board members looked into citizen concerns about the lack of west side options for Newton Community School District’s proposed configuration scenarios during a Sept. 11 work session, which showed deconstructed cost comparisons for each elementary building except Woodrow Wilson.

Superintendent Tom Messinger told Newton News that the Woodrow Wilson Elementary property was not considered in the presentation because it was too small for the amount of extra space needed for parking and playground areas. It is not feasible to rework the building at that location.

However, the school district’s architectural firm, FRK Architects + Engineers, still provided a west side option in the form of Thomas Jefferson Elementary. The firm included cost estimates for each building depending on if they were to become a preK-1 center, a grades 2-4 center or a preK-4 center.

If Thomas Jefferson was converted into a preK-1 center, it would cost more than $10 million. Emerson Hough Elementary is the more cost-efficient option at more than $6.6 million. While Aurora Heights Elementary is close behind at more than $6.8 million, it also needs $3.2 million in future remodels.

John Darveau, of FRK Architects + Engineers, said the future remodeling costs were placed on every scenario involving Aurora Heights. While not critical to the building’s initial remodel, Darveau recommended they be finished sometime later. Newton News will exclude the $3.2 million from future totals in this article.

If Thomas Jefferson was converted into a grades 2-4 center, it would cost about $16.5 million. Whereas the next most cost-efficient choices are Emerson Hough at more than $6.6 million and then Aurora Heights at more than $12.3 million. Each building would have eight sections for second, third and fourth grades.

FRK also showed combined costs. For instance, if Emerson Hough was chosen was the preK-1 center and Aurora Heights the 2-4 center, it would cost more than $18.9 million. If Thomas Jefferson was chosen as the preK-1 center and Emerson as the 2-4 center, it would cost less at $17.2 million.

The most expensive option would be to make Thomas Jefferson the preK-1 center and Aurora Heights the grades 2-4 center at $22.9 million.

If Thomas Jefferson was converted into an upgraded preK-4 elementary school, it would cost more than $16.5 million. Emerson Hough still remains the most cost-efficient option at $7.1 million, with Aurora Heights at more than $12.3 million, not counting the finished remodeling costs.

Again, if school board members decided to move forward with the scenario that upgrades two preK-4 buildings and closes the two remaining, the combined construction costs for Emerson Hough and Aurora Heights would be $19.4 million, which is the more cost-efficient option.

But if Thomas Jefferson and Aurora Heights were chosen, it would cost more than $28.8 million, which is the most expensive option. If Thomas Jefferson and Emerson Hough were chosen as the preK-4 elementary schools, it would cost more than $23.6 million, according to information from FRK.

School board member Ray Whipple asked what it would cost to build an entirely new building. Architects estimate around $20 million in construction costs, but that is not taking into consideration land acquisition and other needed costs. Whipple pushed for a new building, but most board members shut down the idea.

When it comes to paying for the configuration, the school district has a few options. Tim Bloom, director of business services, said there is $28.7 million in SAVE funds available, but a lot of that money is also planned for other projects in the district. The school also has $9.3 million in general obligation bonds.

If a public measure is put to a ballot, Newton voters can agree to raise the school’s tax levy to give officials $31.4 million of extra revenue to pay for it, too.

Robyn Friedman, president of the Newton school board, said, “Clearly, we have a puzzle in front of us. Our intention of starting all of this was cost savings for the district, but at the same time having the best educational impact for kids and then least transitions to make that less of a disruption.”

Since this all transpired during a work session, it means school board members could not vote on any formal action. There also seemed to be no clear consensus over which option board members favored over the other. Friedman said it is even unfair for school boards to decide which option they like the most.

“I think there are some more questions that most of us perhaps still have.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.