School Board discusses high school addition

By Chuck Kajer

The cost of building is going up, but not as fast as the tax capacity of the New Prague Area School District.

Those factors provided for some astounding figures at Monday’s meeting of the New Prague Area School Board.

Board members discussed the costs and tax impact of an addition to the 1998 high school building. The addition is needed because the school’s enrollment exceeds its capacity, and is expected to take a big jump in the fall of 2007, which is the soonest a new addition could open if voters approved it this fall. The board is considering putting the question on the ballot for the November 8 school board election.

The high school addition—which would add a two-story, 35,000 square foot addition to the high school’s northeast wing and would also add a gym station, expand the lunch room, locker banks and phy ed and sports locker rooms—would cost an estimated $17 million. That figure compares to the $10 million that was estimated for the same addition last December, when voters rejected a referendum question that tied the high school addition to a new elementary school in Lonsdale. The question was part of a three-part referendum, in which voters approved construction of elementary schools in New Prague and New Market.

“The global economy, rising fuel costs and the demand for steel, have increased the cost of building greatly,” said Tim Rybak, the district’s director of operations.

Voters also rejected a third question, calling for a swimming pool to be part of the high school project. The cost of that pool has doubled since December, going from $2.5 million to $5 million. That is due in part to the increased building costs, and in part to changes in the building code as it pertains to pools.

Tax impact goes down

Even more startling than the 70 percent increase in construction costs is the change in the cost to taxpayers. The tax capacity of the district has gone up so much that the cost to a typical taxpayer has actually gone down.

According to district finance director Rod Zivkovich, the owner of a typical $250,000 home would pay just $5.50 a month for the school addition and another $1.50 a month for the pool on their property taxes. Last fall, when the district was formulating its referendum questions, the high school addition would have cost about $10 a month to taxpayers.

Board members talked about how the growth in the tax base would have meant that the $10 talked about last year would have turned out to be significantly less.

“I just cringe when I think about this,” Rod Tietz said. He said it’s frustrating when people argued against the the board’s number “as if they had all the facts.”

Other board members expressed similar frustrations that so many people didn’t believe the figures the board was presenting last December.

Decision time nears

Board members need to decide by September 16 whether to ask voters to approve the school addition if they want the question on the November 8 ballot. The proposed expansion would give the school a capacity of 1,500 students. The building was designed for 1,050 students and will house more than 1,100 students this year. If passed in November, the addition would open in the fall of 2007, when high school enrollment is projected to be more than 1,200.

The proposed addition to the high school would include a 35,000-square foot addition to the north wing of the building, including 16 classrooms, four labs, one of them set aside for art, a lecture room for 100 students and a staff area. that wing was designed with an expansion in mind.

In addition, there would also be expansion of the cafeteria and commons area into the existing wrestling room, a new staff dining area, an additional stairwell in the gym area, an additional gym station, a new wrestling room to replace the one being taken over by the food service, expanded locker rooms, realignment of the gym area and walking track, and room for additional student lockers.

A pool addition would include an 8-lane competition pool, diving well, locker rooms, offices, storage and spectator seating. That addition would be immediately south of the gym area.

Board member Tom Fadden looked at the rising costs and the rapidly increasing enrollment. He asked Can we go bigger?

Eric Linnear of Wold Architects, who was the lead architect on the 1998 building, said it would be difficult to increase the size of the cafeteria and other core areas beyond what was proposed. I’m not sure the site could handle that much more

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