Council Bluffs Community School District residents will vote on a $37 million bond issue to fund renovations at the district’s two middle schools in a special election on Sept. 11.
The school district’s board of education approved a resolution calling for the referendum during its regular meeting Tuesday after volunteer Barry Cleaveland presented petitions with 332 eligible signatures — well over the 265 required to trigger the election. School officials have until Friday at closing to file a formal request with the Pottawattamie County Auditor’s Office.
“I would like to thank Mr. Cleaveland for his part and role in this and for all his community service,” Superintendent Vickie Murillo said.
Board member Jill Ogg-Gress made a motion to approve the resolution calling for the election, and member Chris LaFerla seconded it. All voted in favor, with member Bill Grove absent.
A 20-year general obligation bond in the amount of $37 million would add $31 of property tax annually on an average-priced home, according to the school district.
Two board members who were asked after the meeting seemed optimistic that there would be enough community support to pass the bond issue.
“So far, I’ve heard very supportive feedback from the community,” LaFerla said. “The committee that worked on getting the signatures relayed that there was a positive response from the people they collected the signatures from. People who are familiar with Kirn and Wilson understand that there is a need to renovate them.”
Part of the money from the general obligation bond would be used to purchase and renovate the former Target building so students could attend classes there during the renovations, board President Troy Arthur said.
“If we do this at the speed we would like to do it, we would need a place to put the kids,” he said. “We want to keep the learning on as high a level as we can and not let the work affect it.”
School officials had hoped the Iowa Legislature would extend the one-cent sales tax for schools — Secure an Advanced Vision for Education, currently set to expire in 2029 — so the district could bond against sales tax revenues for 20 years. But while the Iowa House overwhelmingly approved a bill during its 2018 session to extend the tax through 2049, the corresponding bill in the Senate never made it to the floor.
The school district has bonded against the revenue from the tax to make major improvements to district facilities. That helped finance renovation of the district’s elementary schools and two high schools, as well as the construction of College View Elementary School and reconstruction of Carter Lake Elementary. It is counting on the revenue to help pay off those bonds.
“The district receives $8.6 million from the sales tax annually, 67 percent of which is used to pay the bonds issued for the prior work,” Murillo said. “It is also used for repairs, large equipment purchases, technology and construction projects, like the Abraham Lincoln High School parking lot, the initial renovation of the Trades Academy classroom/lab spaces in both high schools and the addition of the safety vestibule at the main entrance to Thomas Jefferson High School, among other projects.”
If the tax is allowed to expire, revenue that could be used to finance the middle school work would be limited, Murillo said.
“The anticipated SAVE revenue through 2029 is not enough to pay down the existing bonds and cover the cost of the middle school renovations,” she said. “General obligation bonds are the only other source of revenue for renovation projects.”
So what happens if a bond issue passes and the Legislature also extends the tax?
“If SAVE is extended, the district will evaluate the proposed amount in the general obligation bond and look for means to lower the amount of money borrowed,” Murillo said.
The district’s conceptual plans for remodeling Wilson and Kirn Middle Schools, developed with the help of BVH Architecture, were announced at the board’s April 10 meeting. The buildings would be converted from a junior high departmental model to a middle school learning team model. Each grade level would have its own area, which would contain several pods. Classroom areas would be remodeled to enlarge small classrooms and group rooms according to grade level and team.
Small additions would be built at both facilities for new entrances and kitchen and delivery areas. Kirn would be expanded with a two-story addition with more classrooms.
Both middle schools have two gyms and an auditorium, but Wilson’s auditorium does not have an elevated stage with space for backdrops. One option under consideration is converting one of the gyms into a multi-use space with pull-out seating.
Additional security measures would be installed at the entrances and around the buildings.
Equipment would be added so academic areas could be blocked off from areas where community members come for athletic and fine arts events.
Accessibility would be improved to make the buildings fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. HVAC systems and other infrastructure components would be upgraded as needed.
The last time a bond election was held for the Council Bluffs Community School District was in 1996.