Patrons give input on school building needs

Patrons of the Houston School District will be asked in April to approve plans for a new high school to alleviate space concerns and meet state requirements for library needs. The announcement of the $7.5 million project – which would result in a small increase in the school’s levy – came at a forum late last week.

Representatives of architectural and financial firms led the discussion, as well as the school district. Dr. Dan Vandiver, superintendent, said a series of meetings with patrons will occur before April.

With new leadership in the superintendent’s office and a new architectural firm hired, school leaders say they plan to include teachers, staff and the public in all of the discussions. A measure last April was defeated by just two votes.

The latest project, if approved, would:

-Address space needs which were further complicated when an engineer’s report showed structural problems with the Fine Arts Building, which has since been put out of service. Since that time, a state panel has recommended the structure be considered for placement on the National Register of Historic Places and an advocate for historical preservation urged the structure be retained at the meeting.

-Improve operation of the school cafeteria, where grades six through twelve eat in split shifts running from 10:45 a.m. until 1 p.m. because of a lack of space.

-Correct deficiencies in library resources outlined by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The district’s library covers about 2,000 square foot – which is about 4,400 square feet below minimum standards for a district the size of Houston.

-Better pedestrian flow on campus – preventing situations that have younger students mingling with much older ones.

Stephen Telscher, an architect with Sapp Design Associations PC in Springfield, outlined several preliminary drawings that showed how a 40,000 – 45,000 square foot building could be placed on campus. The various designs situated the structure either behind the Fine Arts Building, on the site of it or in front of it.

No location has been finalized, and the architectural firm continues to collect data in the community, including two recent days where teachers and staff were interviewed.

The project is expected to result in a commons areas that includes a dining hall/lunch room, kitchen, a media center/computer lab, general classroom spaces and office and support spaces. An addition and renovation of the current library also is under consideration.

Larry Hart, the principal in the St. Louis investment firm of L.J. Hart & Company that has completed numerous school finance projects in the state, said funding includes a $5 million general obligation bond that requires no increase in the tax rate. The current levy would pay for that portion of the financing. The district’s bond indebtedness limit is about $5.7 million based on the current assessed valuation. Local residents and banks would receive first chance in investing in the bonds.

An additional $2.5 million would be structured as a lease purchase that would require a 43- to 51-cent increase in the levy, depending on the payback period.

A wildcard is the expected passage of a public works bill next month by Congress and the Obama administration that is expected to include funds for school construction.

The deadline to place an issue on the April ballot is Jan. 27. If approved, construction would begin in the fall of 2009 with a projected completion date in winter 2010. Two other forums with the community are planned before the election, Telscher said. The next one is set for mid-February.

At last week’s meeting, those attending completed a survey that asked for input on the look of the building, preferences for its location and whether they supported the project.

Vandiver said this week the survey showed:

*About 70 percent were in favor of the bond issue. Another 15 percent were opposed and 15 percent undecided.

*When asked which scheme they preferred, 79 percent opted for the design that placed it on the existing Fine Arts Building site.

*The group was more equally divided on their preference for a traditional vs. modern approach to the architectural style.

Online resources at a community forum fact sheet and information about the financing of the measure.

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