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$34.4 million

Editor's note: This is the first story in a three-part series on the proposed school bond issue for Jamestown Public Schools. The election to decide the issue is Sept. 25. Robert Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools, says all aspects ...

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Robert Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools, discusses the potential school project components which voters will decide on Sept. 25. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Editor's note: This is the first story in a three-part series on the proposed school bond issue for Jamestown Public Schools. The election to decide the issue is Sept. 25.

Robert Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools, says all aspects of the planned $34.4 million school bond issue that will be decided by voters next week are priorities, but one segment makes up nearly half the cost of the project.

"The idea of addressing Washington Elementary, that campus, transition over to the expanded Louis L'Amour is really at the heart (of the proposal)," he said.

Decommissioning Washington school campus: $16.4 million

The proposal does not include any cost to decommission Washington, although earlier plans had set about $900,000 for demolishing the building, Lech said. Current plans include repurposing the building possibly as low- to moderate-income housing, although there are no deals in place to accomplish that.

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The bond issue includes $8.8 million for an addition to Louis L'Amour Elementary School in southwest Jamestown. The new school addition would replace the classroom space lost to the decommissioning of Washington Elementary School but not increase the overall student capacity or staff requirements of the Jamestown Public School system, Lech said.

Along with the cost of adding on to Louis L'Amour is the cost to replace the existing football field adjacent to Washington.

"We think of that campus as one space," Lech said. "A repurposed building would not want to have another activity in its backyard."

Ernie Gates Field, located behind Washington school, has been the location of Blue Jay football for decades. The plan calls for a $7.6 million turfed football stadium and track with fieldhouse, concessions and bathrooms, to be constructed near Jamestown High School.

Lech cited safety issues for students traveling to and from practice at Ernie Gates as well as parking, locker room, concession and bathroom issues at Ernie Gates as other reasons to replace Ernie Gates Field. No cost estimates for renovating Ernie Gates, rather than constructing a new facility, have been made, Lech said.

Improved HVAC: $9.2 million

The project expands air conditioning into all Jamestown school buildings. Louis L'Amour Elementary, Jamestown High School and portions of Jamestown Middle School have air conditioning while the rest of the facilities do not.

Capital Projects Plan: $5.8 million

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This portion of the plan "clips the peak" off the maintenance list at Jamestown school facilities, according to Lech. It includes a variety of things like roof maintenance, boilers, windows, updates to kitchens and other projects the school district hasn't funded with its current 10-mill building fund in past years.

The intent would be to keep buildings current with the 10-mill building fund after the high priority projects are done, Lech said.

Middle School science labs: $1 million

Science labs currently in use at Jamestown Middle School were constructed when that building was used as Jamestown High School. The labs are outdated and not properly sized for middle school students, Lech said.

Safety and Security: $860,000

Currently, Jamestown High School is the only Jamestown school building without a secured entrance, Lech said.

"There is a lot of student movement," he said, referring to the high school entrance. "It could be restructured so visitors come through the office."

Other options include some sort of electronic key for student use, he said.

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Safety changes could include parking and traffic patterns around the schools to make it safer for students to get in and out of vehicles on the way to and from class.

Transition House: $400,000

The Transition House, located near Lincoln Elementary School, teaches individual living skills for students up to age 21, Lech said. The program usually has six to 10 participants each year and is currently offered in a former residential home.

If a new transitional home is built, it would be designed for use as a transitional living education facility and might be located near the Jamestown High School campus or another location.

Makerspace Elementary Schools: $375,000

Makerspace Middle School: $150,000

"In this plan, makerspaces are added to every school," Lech said. "Sedentary computer labs are outdated."

Makerspaces offer better educational opportunities in the science, technology, engineering and math fields by providing students lab spaces where they can work together to create or make items, according to Lech.

There are currently two pilot projects in the Jamestown Public School District studying how to use the makerspace programs in education, Lech said.

The election

Voters can go to the polls at the Jamestown Civic Center from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sept. 25 to cast their ballot. They may also vote prior to that at the Stutsman County Courthouse as part of early voting during normal business hours.

There is only one measure on the special election ballot.

The measure must pass by 60 percent, and no additional taxes will be levied until tax statements are issued in the fall of 2019.

Sale of the bonds

The Jamestown Public School Board voted in August to delay the sale of the bonds until January or February 2019, Lech said. This removes any tax for repayment of the bonds from the upcoming tax season; collection would begin with property taxes levied late in 2019.

The bonds will include $10 million sold to the North Dakota Construction Loan program at a guaranteed 2 percent interest rate. The remaining $24.4 million will be sold on the open bond market at the prevailing interest rate at the time.

Lech said it is possible interest rates could increase between now and the sale of the bond which would increase the amount of taxes the school would have to levy to pay off the bond issue.

Construction

Construction on portions of the listed improvements is planned to begin this fall with costs covered from the school's building fund until the sale of the bonds.

Lech said the size of the combined projects may mean lower costs.

"Bigger projects attract more bidders which can mean a better price," he said.

Other options

Lech said a bond issue like the one that will be decided next week by Jamestown Public School District voters exists for a set period of time, in this case 20 years, and then goes off the taxes. He said this is an advantage over an increase to the building fund which would stay in place until it is changed.

Other options, according to Tom Tracy, assistant superintendent at Kensal Public School who wrote a letter to the editor voicing concerns about the bond issue, could include raising the school building mill rate or transferring money from the general fund to the building fund.

The building fund mill rate could be raised from its current 10 mills to up to 20 mills but would require approval by the voters of the district.

Transferring money from the general fund to the building fund would require making cuts to current general fund spending. Tracy estimates that between 75 percent to 80 percent of the general fund is used for teacher and staff salary and benefits.

Budget documents from Jamestown Public School show employee salaries and benefits as 77.8 percent of the district's expenditures.

"Things could have been done better in the past years," Tracy said. "I'm talking 10 or so years back. Not just this superintendent and this school board."

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