WHY ARE WE VOTING?
Over the last few years, following a thorough assessment of our building in 2018, the Durant Community School District has been addressing deferred maintenance issues, such as replacing the roof and windows in the middle school wing and repairing flooring. There is more work to be done, though, to ensure our building will serve future generations of Wildcats as it has for nearly 100 years.
Over the course of more than a year, a community-based facility advisory committee considered the results of the facility assessments and past facility plans and arrived at a proposed solution that will address the most critical facility needs at our district. The plan includes overall updates to classrooms and improved security at entrances. The original 1936 gym will be replaced with a new gym in the same location that will be large enough for practices and middle school competitions. The auditorium will also be renovated and expanded.
The project, which was unanimously endorsed by the school board, will be funded by a general obligation bond, which requires a public vote.
HOW WILL WE PAY FOR IT?
This plan will cost $15.6 million dollars. It will be paid for using funds from a general obligation bond. Because the district will increase property taxes to pay the bond debt, voters must approve the bond.
HOW WILL THE BOND AFFECT MY PROPERTY TAXES?
Taxes will increase $4.05 per $1,000 of taxable valuation. The final taxable value of your property is a percentage of its assessed value after credits. Below are examples of how taxes will be affected for both residential and agricultural land.
Durant’s tax levy has routinely ranked well below peer districts. By being fiscally responsible, the district has been able to keep Durant’s levy rate low compared to peer districts. After the bond passes, Durant’s rate will still be lower than many comparable districts.
WHAT WILL THE BALLOT SAY?
On March 7, 2023, a date predetermined by state law, Durant Community School will hold a special election. There will be two questions on the ballot. Sixty-percent of voters must approve of both questions for the bond to pass.
Question 1: Shall the Board of Directors of the Durant Community School District in the Counties of Cedar, Muscatine, and Scott, State of Iowa, be authorized to contract indebtedness and issue General Obligation Bonds in an amount not to exceed $15,600,000 to provide funds to renovate, remodel, repair, improve, expand, furnish and equip portions of the existing building, including theater and gymnasium spaces, classrooms, HVAC and electrical systems, and administrative office spaces, including security improvements?
Question 2: Shall the Board of Directors of the Durant Community School District in the Counties of Cedar, Muscatine, and Scott, State of Iowa, be authorized to levy annually a tax exceeding Two Dollars and Seventy Cents ($2.70) per Thousand Dollars ($1,000), but not exceeding Four Dollars and Five Cents ($4.05) per Thousand Dollars ($1,000) of the assessed value of the taxable property within said school corporation to pay the principal of and interest on bonded indebtedness of said school corporation, it being understood that the approval of this proposition shall not limit the source of payment of the bonds and interest, but shall only operate to restrict the amount of bonds which may be issued?
WHY ARE THERE TWO QUESTIONS ON THE BALLOT?
These two questions work together. The first question describes, in general terms, the type of improvements being proposed and the estimated amount needed to bond in order to complete the project. The second question is triggered by a state law requiring districts to seek voter approval if the tax levy goes above $2.70. In Durant’s case, the increase is $4.05, which requires the second question.
HOW WILL I VOTE?
EARLY: Vote early in person at the Cedar County Courthouse Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. through 4 p.m. February 15 through March 6.
ABSENTEE: Request an absentee ballot from the Cedar County auditor beginning December 27.
Print an absentee ballot request form online: https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/absenteeballotapp.pdf
Absentee ballot requests must be received by the auditor by 15 days prior to the election. Ballots must be received to the auditor by 8 p.m. on election day.
ELECTION DAY: On March 7, 2023, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., eligible voters may vote at the following location:
Durant Community Center, 605 Fifth Avenue, Durant, IA 52747
WHAT DOES THE ADDITION INCLUDE?
● Replace 1936 Gym: Demolish existing gym and replace with new locker rooms and new seating
● Auditorium: Expand existing auditorium to include larger stage, additional seating, and added
● Science & Art Classrooms: Replace and renovate aging equipment and furnishings
● Elementary office: Relocate to elementary wing for improved wayfinding and security
● General updates throughout building including paint, flooring, and ceilings
● ADA improvements
● Update heating and electrical systems to extend life
● Add sprinkler system for safety
● Replace windows
HOW DID THE DISTRICT ARRIVE AT THIS PLAN?
In 2019, the district hired OPN Architects to conduct an assessment of our facilities and building infrastructure. Code and accessibility concerns were also identified. That process also included listening sessions with our staff to identify how our facilities are falling short not just physically, but in supporting today’s educational methods.
Following the report, the Durant School Board of Education has used the findings of that report to help prioritize ongoing maintenance, with the intent that we would begin a long-range planning process at a future date, when our finances better supported undertaking larger projects.
Beginning in 2021, a diverse facilities committee made up of 30 to 40 parents, business owners, farmers, board members, and school employees spent 10 months in meetings, facilitated by the district and OPN Architects, shaping a long-range plan that balances our district’s needs and wants with available funding. After nearly a year of meetings, the Durant Community School District’s Facility Advisory Committee reached consensus on a plan for our facilities that will address needs and provide our students and staff the environment they deserve and need here in Durant.
Both the overall project budget and the potential tax implications were important factors in the committee’s discussion of project priorities, potential concepts, and final plan.
Why should we invest in our facilities?
School facilities are integrally tied to a community’s economic vitality. According to a recent study by real estate search engine Trulia and Harris Interactive, the majority (57 percent) of parents with children under 18 would pay above listing price to live in the neighborhood with ideal schools. As districts around us improve their facilities and the community continues to look to the future, our school facilities will play a critical role in our community’s viability.
What will the renovations and additions look like?
We know everyone is eager to know details about the improvements. That’s why OPN Architects has developed a design concept of both the gym and auditorium. We want to give our community an idea of what it could look like. But we want to stress that these are just initial ideas. There’s a very real possibility that the final design won’t look anything like the picture. After the bond passes and as part of the design process, OPN will spend time getting to know the community’s collective vision for this project, how the spaces will be used and what each space should provide. Final dimensions, exact layout, and general aesthetic, as well as how existing spaces will be repurposed, will be determined at this point in the process. These details will be determined by a core group identified by the school district.
Does the project address safety and security?
The plan will include improvements such as visual phones and electronically locking doors at the High School and Middle School entrances. Moving the elementary school entrance to the district office location will also result in less traffic from the main entrance to the elementary wing.
Replacing the existing bleachers and locker rooms in the old gym will also improve safety as neither are currently code compliant. The plan will also include ADA improvements such as non-code compliant
ramps in the building. Additionally, the building will have a fire sprinkler system, which will greatly improve overall safety.
When will the project be complete?
Once the bond passes, OPN Architects will start the design process, which includes detailed conversations about space needs, adjacencies, and aesthetic preferences. We could bid the project as early as fall 2023 with construction to follow, weather dependent through the winter. Construction usually takes 12 to 14 months and could be complete by spring 2025. Alternatively, the district could decide to wait until the spring of 2024 to bid the project to avoid construction in the winter, which can incur additional costs. These are all decisions that will be made after the bond passes.
Why can’t we pay for the addition without a bond vote?
School district funding is a complicated issue. While generally it is considered wise to save money for a rainy day – or in this case a large expense – school districts are not legally allowed to stockpile large savings accounts. As a protection for taxpayers, they are encouraged by law to operate in such a way that they spend all that they bring in each year. This general fund is used to pay salaries and buy supplies. Think of it like a checking account for day-to-day expenses.
PPEL funds can be used for small-scale ground and building projects. The state has also created the 1-cent sales tax (SAVE) funding mechanism for schools to use for smaller capital projects on an annual basis. Durant school leadership is strategically choosing to preserve both of these funds to continue to make necessary updates and improvements outside the scope of this project. It’s not prudent to spend these funds on larger projects like the renovations and replacements proposed as part of this plan. The district needs to ensure there are still funds available for unforeseen repairs like a broken window or to replace a piece of equipment. General Obligation Bonds are designed to allow districts to embark on larger-scale projects.
What happens if the projects go over budget?
The district is not allowed to bond beyond the amount approved by voters. Of course, anyone who has ever taken on a construction project no matter how big or small knows that there are always unforeseen costs. In the architecture and construction industry, these are called contingencies. A contingency budget is built into the overall budget. Typically, at this point in the project, this is around 20% of the total project budget. This means that our budget is built to be flexible to accommodate unforeseen situations. Throughout the design process, there will be regular cost estimates, each with more detail that helps the design team and district stay aligned with the budget.
Will current supply chain issues affect our project?
OPN has a great deal of experience working on publicly bid projects, including many new and renovated school buildings. We have relationships with local contractors who are all well-versed in procurement phasing, especially due to current supply chain issues.