MICHAEL CARNES FOR THE LAUREL ADVOCATE
LAUREL — The end result of a threeyear strategic facility improvement plan by the Laurel-Concord-Coleridge School Board will be decided by voters in less than two weeks.
A $23 million school bond will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot, and its passage would start a two-year process that would include tearing down the 1922 building, renovating the current elementary building and building new classroom space for the high school.
The good news is the district currently has no debt, so it initially came as a shock to some board members when they began looking at estimates for the elementary building, according to Supt. Jeremy Christiansen.
“When the first estimates of the elementary building came and they were talking $2.5 million, we were astounded as to how it could cost that much,” he said. “But the thing is, we haven’t built anything for more than 20 years, and once that settled in and we looked at all that’s going to be accomplished for $23 million, our board thinks it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.”
The project will feature around 50,000 square feet of new construction and 27,000 feet of renovation that would set the Laurel campus up for the future.
“It’s a big commitment and a big investment for a community to make,” he said. “The hard part is that it’s not for the kids right now. It’s a generational thing, something that will last not just for the current generation, but the kids who are still coming to the school years from now.”
The current high school building is nearing 100 years old and is the source of much of the district’s recent expenses when it comes to infrastructure issues.
“The board was looking at where they are putting resources and where they are spending money on facilities, and what we saw was that we were putting a lot of money into the high school buildings — not just for cosmetic things, but for core infrastructure issues,” Christiansen said.
It’s a regular occurrence, the superintendent said, for something to come up in the high school building, whether it’s heating and air conditioning units not working to gas leaks to a roof that can’t keep rain from coming into the building.
“Almost every day, we’ve got water leaking somewhere,” Christiansen said. “It’s not that it hasn’t been maintained. It’s just that it’s reaching its age limits in some areas. The 1922 building has served its purpose, Christiansen added, but there’s a lot of space there now that can’t be effectively used for student learning because we can’t maintain the temperature.”
That has limited programs like agriculture, industrial tech and science programs.
“Our ag program has a lot of potential and a terrific teacher, but we don’t have lab space or space to grow much, and it’s really a challenge to build a program,” he added. “The industrial tech has an open space but has limited accessibility for welding stations. It’s right on top of our wood shop and we don’t have space for small engines. Our science classrooms are 1960-style and the fixtures are from that era and there are some things our science teachers can’t do because they don’t have the capacity for it and the kind of environment we need for it.”
The board looked at a “save and pay” model where they would levy a tax through the special building fund, but that route would wind up costing the district more money in the long run.
“The challenge is that you can do something in a component, but with the high school you’d be talking 10-15 years to save up, and with the rising cost of construction, a project that is $23 million now will be closer to $30 million in five years for the same thing.”
The $23 million project would be built under a unique structure called “construction manager at risk,” where the construction company, Hausman Construction of Norfolk, would be involved in the entire project and would be responsible for managing the money behind the project.
“If something happens that’s unexpected and the end cost is more than what was budgeted, it’s on the construction company and not the school district,” Christiansen said. “If we might need to make a change, they’ll be able to tell us how it impacts the job and keep it under that $23 million bond amount.”
Christiansen said the board was comfortable with the Norfolk-based company, which has a reputation of bringing on locally-based subcontractors to handle electrical, plumbing or concrete work.
“They make sure there is money that is staying local for contracts and subcontracts, so they’ll be able to invite local subcontractors in,” he said.
Hausman also has a program called “Hausman U” that gives local high school students an opportunity to work with people involved in the project, giving them a real-world experience they can carry with them once they graduate from LCC.
“They work with our kids in our industrial tech and design programs and involve them on how to be part of a project like this,” he added. “We have two kids working with our architect through the design process, which is a unique experience for these kids.”
The $23 million bond issue will raise the district’s bond fund by 11.4884 cents per $100 valuation. A home owner in the district with a house valued at $100,000 would see their taxes increase by $114 annually, or about $9.50 per month. Irrigated, agricultural land would see an increase of about $1.39 per acre annually or $232.52 per quarter section annually.
The bond issue has been talked about by many in the community, including retired teacher Lyle Van Cleave, who likes the proposal but would like to see the middle school moved from Coleridge and be part of the plan.
“I’m in favor. I think it’s time we get a new school, but my concern is about the middle school and when we eventually close the school in Coleridge what do we with those students,” he said.
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“In 10 years you’re going to determine that something really needs to be done and it’s going to cost more, so the time to build it is now.”
Many people in Coleridge are concerned about the future of the school building there, but Christiansen said it is an asset the Board has no interest in losing.
“That building is in terrific shape and is a great asset for our district,” he said. “We’ve assessed the life of the roof and HVAC system, and it will be probably 7-8 years before we need to do anything there in regard to physical maintenance. The physical structure of the building is in great shape and it works out really well for us.”
He said in recent community forums in Coleridge and Laurel, the school board has made it “very clear” the Coleridge building will remain part of the school district for the foreseeable future. However, Christiansen said the design of the new building does allow for additional space to be built for a middle school, should that need arise.
“We’ve been proactive to make sure with our architect that this design and footprint is such that if a future board or if future enrollment makes sense to bring the middle school here, there’s space to add the classrooms that would be necessary,” he said. “They’ve thought through where might those rooms go in the overall design and it’s set up so that they could be added on.”
“We don’t want to do that (now) because it would increase the overall cost of the building and you’d have empty classrooms,” he added. “Right now is not the time to move the middle school here. The board doesn’t feel it’s needed, our enrollment is sufficient and strong that it wouldn’t be a good idea to move it. At some point the community may decide differently, but right now we’re setting up what’s the best decision.”
That being said, Christiansen said Coleridge residents shouldn’t be concerned about the future of their school and its role in the LCC system.
“I get it and appreciate that a school is a backbone of a community, and that’s also a part of this decision,” he said. “Our school system is a part of the Coleridge community as well. We’re part of the Concord community even though we don’t have a campus there. This board doesn’t want to change that.”