Clinton School District voters on Tuesday will have to make a big decision – one in which they will basically choose whether to rebuild Clinton High School from the inside out.
The specific question on the ballot will ask whether the district can approve bond sales of $38.89 million to pay for a portion of the $62 million project – a seven-phase renovation plan, selected by the school board in May, that would replace the original 1921 building with a three-story academic wing and media center on the east side of the school and construct an arts wing with a new auditorium on the south side, to the east of Yourd gym. Parking also would be added around the building. Yourd gym would remain.
The rest of the cost above the bond sales – $23.1 million – would be paid with revenues from a sales tax known as the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education tax. The bond issue will need 60 percent voter approval to pass.
A consensus of the Clinton Herald Editorial Board believes this is a project that voters must approve.
It all goes back to 1996, when the Facilities Task Force presented a multi-year plan to upgrade school facilities. The work was laid out in three phases: First the elementary buildings, then the middle schools and, finally, the high school.
The first step was to get a bond referendum in front of voters that would ask them for $9 million to renovate Whittier Elementary School and renovate and reopen the former Gateway building and turn it into what would become Bluff Elementary. The plan would take the district’s seven middle schools — Kirkwood, Horace Mann, Elijah Buell, Harding, Jefferson, Longfellow and Whittier — and bring all of those students into four buildings.
The work to do that cleared its first major hurdle in 1997, when voters turned out at the polls that fall and agreed to the Bluff/Whittier plan; in 1999 the district dedicated those two buildings just months after teachers and students said goodbye to the Henry Sabin and Longfellow buildings. Longfellow was demolished; Sabin later housed Lincoln High School and now is the Gateway Area Community Center. A shared alternative high school is located at GACC under an agreement with the Clinton and Camanche school districts.
Along the way, Kirkwood was sold to Head Start. Harding was closed to students due to districtwide declining enrollment and its students sent to other buildings.
Jefferson was built with revenue from the local option sales tax that has been in effect here since 2001. Horace Mann and Elijah Buell also were later closed to students, who were sent to the new Eagle Heights Elementary School, also built with sales tax revenue.
Harding, which for several years was being considered for a new public library location, went back in the school district’s hands after city voters turned down that plan. It now houses the school district’s administrative offices.
Lyons and Washington middle schools were merged into a new middle school building that opened its doors in late 2014. The district bonded against sales tax revenue until 2029 to fund the new middle school.
With all that work behind it, the school district now is proceeding onto the last phase of that 1996 plan — the high school built in 1921, which over the years has been pieced together with the 1958 addition of the shops building and the 1959 addition of Yourd gym.
A fire destroyed the building in 1968, and a rebuilt version, minus the third floor, opened in 1970. The boiler house was new at that time and Vernon Cook theater was added in 1971. The Wellness Addition, which includes the swimming pool, was built in 2011 and will not be affected by the new construction proposed in the bond issue.
Funding always has been and will be the issue for covering school building improvements; timing is everything.
When the Iowa Legislature extended SAVE, the state penny sales tax for school infrastructure that was set to expire in 2029, last year, it extended the district’s bonding capacity in the process. And with SAVE extended through 2051, the district can borrow against it an additional 22 years.
That was the first key step needed to even look at whether upgrading CHS was financially possible. The second necessary step, the one that makes it happen, is passage of the bond referendum on Tuesday to fill in the funding gap that remains after the SAVE dollars are figured into the equation.
So what will it cost homeowners?
According to members of the task force that recommended the plan, homeowners would pay about 32.5 cents more per $1,000 of assessed valuation if the bond issue is approved. Property taxes would increase about $9 a year for a residential property assessed at $50,000 and about $18.50 for residential property assessed at $100,000, according to Eric Van Lancker, a member of the task force.
Even though it’s been so many years since the plans to upgrade schools were only on paper, it really is a short time span when one considers what all was accomplished both through the 1997 initial bond and the combination of the local option sales tax and SAVE funding.
But while much work has been accomplished through the district, more remains at Clinton High School.
Let’s get it done.
The Herald’s Opinion