When I was hired as superintendent almost four years ago, one of the questions being asked was how the district might move forward on addressing the Chauncey Davis elementary building. Even though the district maintains its buildings and grounds well, it's a challenge to expect an elementary school approaching 70 years of age to meet the safety and learning needs of our students. Knowing this, the school board and I began looking into possibilities.
Current school building issues
The first thing we did was to complete a state required study & survey of the old school building, which consisted of an architectural/engineering firm studying all building components and infrastructure. This process resulted in an overall building "condition" score that was then reported to the state. The study included an in-depth review of: building architecture, structural and civil systems, mechanical/electrical/plumbing systems, and heating & ventilation, among others. Every aspect and component of the Chauncey Davis school building was studied. After completing the study, the overall building condition score was evaluated as "poor". Though a low score is common with schools this old, it was obvious we had reached the point of needing significant improvements.
South Bend School District has been and remains a good steward of public resources, and we are thankful for our community's trust and generosity. The board and I knew as soon as we explored the costs needed for the elementary school, both remodeling and building new, the financial burden would be overbearing---not even possible. To make matters even more complicated, we found that because the total assessed property values are so low within South Bend School District, we were legally ineligible to raise enough money (through a bond) to build a new school on our own. Even a remodel of the current building was beyond our reach. Due to the extensive structural needs and required building code enhancements, combined with the need to temporarily "house" both our K-6 students and campus kitchen/cafeteria during construction, the cost differences of remodeling vs. building new were negligible. Even so, a remodeled building would still be below the flood plain. It was clear we needed a way to build a new school.
Our community received a life-line from the State Legislature this last January. After two plus years of telling our story and communicating our need to Olympia, we received capital funding of over $11 million dollars to build our new elementary school. This money includes a one-time special appropriation and matching funds that allow us to build a new school with an unusually low bond amount. When two years ago we faced an impossibility, we are now faced with an opportunity: the ability to build a new school for less than a third of the cost if we were to do the project without the special funding. The money raised through the $4.95 million-dollar bond will provide the remaining funds to build South Bend a completely new elementary school at a fraction of the cost.
Most people who know construction know that as years pass by costs go up. Not addressing our need now would most likely result in a much more expensive project for the future, and we will not have our special state funding to help. Prior to this opportunity, I have never seen a small, rural school like ours receive state funding to this extent. The new elementary school will cost $16 million dollars and the state is paying 70% of these costs---certainly something to consider.
Tax cuts coming
Another unanticipated and positive development for taxpayers is the recent law change related to M&O school levies. Next tax year (2019) South Bend taxpayers will see a 60% school tax cut, resulting in a drop of $2.25 per thousand of assessed values. If voters approve the bond needed to build the school, the bond rate needed will add just $.81 cents to the tax bill. With a drop of $2.25 and an "add" of $.81 cents, taxpayers will pay less than they are right now---even with the new school. As an example, a house assessed at $100,000 will see a tax cut of $225 dollars and an "add" of $81 dollars---this is a net decrease of $144 dollars from current taxes.
Putting it all together, we have the opportunity to address the severe needs of Chauncey Davis Elementary, which include worn out infrastructure, earthquake susceptibility, yearly flooding, and school safety provisions. Our opportunity is a brand-new school, and comes with a local cost much lower than what most other communities pay. Finally, total school taxes with the new bond in place will be less than what they are now.
Ballots will be mailed on April 6 and voters must return their marked ballots by April 24. If anyone has questions about this project, please feel free to contact me at 360-875-6041. You can also contact any of our board members: Steve Rogers, Chuck Spoor, Todd Strozyk, Dave Eastham, or Andy Seaman. Others who have information include Mike Morris, Gary Wilson, and principal Kresta Byington. You can also find information online at bit.ly/newsouthbendelementary.
Thank you for your serious consideration on this important opportunity for South Bend kids.