New community hub?
Who's got the button?
Members of the School District 206 Board of Education hope that the majority of the Alexandria community does. It would show that they are rallying behind the effort to build a new high school.
But it wouldn't just be a high school - it would be a hub.
"The hub of any community is the high school," Board Chair Dean Anderson said at Monday night's school board meeting. "Here we have a chance to improve our hub substantially and make it a place where the community can participate in and use and be proud of."
Along with regular board action - discussions about budgets, special education, retirements and student accomplishments - the focus of the February meeting was a presentation by Julie Critz, director of teaching and learning. She spoke in-depth about the latest developments in bringing a new high school to Alexandria.
Critz started the presentation by pointing out the button she was wearing - the logo promoting the high school project. The button consists of a circle of conjoined, multi-colored people.
"It signifies the coming together of the community," Critz said of the symbol.
As yet unnamed, the hub is currently referred to as the Alexandria Area High School Education Complex. Its aim? To support academics, the arts and athletics. Its cost? Around $70 million.
Why a new school?
Jefferson High School was completed in 1958. It is located on 49 acres and is landlocked. With parking lots now on three sides, security and safety is an issue. When the school opened, there were 50 student drivers. Today, there are 650.
The classrooms and cafeteria are undersized and the too-narrow hallways are crammed and crowded. Five outdoor classrooms, built in 1975, were supposed to be used for 10 years.
"We're maybe nearing the end of that 10 years," Critz said, inciting laughter from attendees.
The mechanical systems - HVAC, plumbing and electrical - are outdated, inefficient and in need of constant costly repairs.
Cost to renovate the existing school would be about $40 million, which would not address the security concerns, restructure the interior, and provide energy efficiency. It is estimated that a new building would save $64,750 per year in energy costs.
Is now a good time?
An attendee at the meeting voiced concern regarding the timing of such a costly project, given the tenuous economical and political environment.
"We don't even have enough money to run our schools," she stated. "The school system is in debt. Where are we going to come up with the money?"
According to Critz' presentation, now is actually a good time to build the school. Construction rates are low, as are borrowing costs. The current 1 percent lower interest rate would result in a reduction of $9 million on a 20-year bond. Also, Discovery Middle School will be paid off in January 2013.
The effect the school would have on the economy of the community should also be factored in, according to members of the board.
"A strong school system helps retain young families, attract new families, and encourages new business to locate or expand here," Critz stated. "Quality schools make quality communities. The two go hand in hand."
Another attendee questioned the necessity of the magnitude of the project and wondered if the district could get by with doing nothing - no renovations, no new facility - and "get by" for "another decade."
"We will look into what that would take," Anderson replied.
"We're still in listening mode," Critz agreed.
Instead of housing grades 10 to 12, the new high school would include 9th graders, which in turn would require reconfiguring middle school to grades 6 to 8.
"Nine through 12 works best for programming," Critz explained. "It helps with credit recovery and provides opportunities for programming and sharing of teachers and activities."
The 280,000-square-foot building would have the capacity for 1,400 students. There would be a central entrance/meeting area, two three-story "academic towers," several athletic fields, three gymnasiums and an auditorium that could seat 1,000.
"None of this is locked in stone, but it is where we're at right now," Critz stressed.
The tax impact of a $70-million project would be in the range of $150 to $200 per year on homes valued at $150,000 to $175,000.
To ease that tax burden, a capital campaign is currently focusing on raising $12 million in private donations. So far, $1.5 million has been raised. All gifts would be used to reduce debt service, not add infrastructure or amenities.
A return on the
In closing the meeting, it all came back to what a school, and a school board, is all about - the students. When Anderson opened up the meeting for comments from the board, they touted the wealth of talent thriving in School District 206.
Newly-elected school board member Sandy Susag had just judged a talent contest and had lined up some musically-talented students to perform at a concert on the courthouse lawn this summer.
"We have some talented kids in this neck of the woods," she said.
Board member Jean Robley agreed. "I went to a basketball game Saturday night. The Pop Choir sang the Star Spangled Banner," she said. "I'm not kidding, I was totally choked up. They were so good."
On that note, Anderson concluded the meeting. He left his fellow board members with a reminder of one way to spread the word about the upcoming referendum - a project that could further enhance this "hub" of Alexandria and continue to encourage and develop such talented young people for generations to come:
"Wear your button!"