The second of two public meetings to decide the fate of Koch School was held on July 30, at the school. In an ad hoc meeting following the public forum, the Milbank School District Board of Education (Stengel was absent) voted to approve a referendum for a bond for $15.93 million to build a new elementary school. The $15.93 million total does not include the price of the new building site or the cost, if necessary, to demolish the current Koch School structure. Voters will make the final decision when the issue goes to a public vote on September 18. A 60 percent approval rate must be obtained for the referendum to pass.
Over 30 citizens, including numerous members of the Milbank School District, Milbank City Council, and Grant County Commissioners attended the meeting. Superintendent Tim Graf presented the group with three options:
Option 1 includes a minor remodel with upgrades for the current facility. In general, this plan addresses only the building’s electrical and mechanical deficiencies. Option 1 would cost approximately $4.5 million and would be billed to taxpayers using a .36 mill rate. (For every $100,000 of assessed value of a property, taxes would increase by around $3 per month or $36 per year.) Farm and commercial property are billed at the same rate.
Option 2 includes a more comprehensive remodel for the current facility. Option 2 would cost approximately $13.1 million and would be billed at a mill rate of 1.03. (For every $100,000 of assessed property value, taxes would increase by $8.58 per month or $103 a year.) Farm and commercial property are billed at the same rate.
Option 3 features a new building constructed on a different site. Option 3 would cost approximately $15.93 million excluding the cost of the land, and would be billed to taxpayers at the mill rate of 1.30. (For every $100,000 in assessed property value, taxes would increase by $10.83 per month or $130 per year.) Farm and commercial property are billed at the same rate.
Graf also discussed the impact each option would have on student displacement during the school year. If Option 1 had been chosen, the project would have been completed during the summer break with little impact. Option 2 would have required the use of rented modular classrooms, and the school would have been considered a construction zone for the majority of the school year. Option 3 causes the least student displacement.
Option 3, however, contains the ambiguity of the new school’s location. The two possibilities mentioned are the property west of the high school (the football and baseball practice field near the water tower) due to its proximity to the high school, middle school, and Unity Square; and the second site, which is the property situated just south of MHS.
Graf noted soil studies will need to be completed before a site could be determined. It is estimated nine acres would be required for the new facility, with seven acres the minimum to erect an 85,000 square foot building. Former board member, Marylynne Fields, reminded the group that soil samples for the potential site west of the high school have already been obtained, and could possibly be used in lieu of a new soil study. Traffic flow was presented as an aspect of the design which also needs to be considered along with green spaces and buffers for residential properties.
Graf discussed how the current facility is structurally sound, but contains many items that require immediate attention. The original portion of Koch School was built in 1956. In 1966, the addition was annexed to accommodate growth. In 1998, the gym and geothermal system were added, creating today’s footprint at around 73,000 square feet. The heating units in each of the classrooms have stretched past their intended lifespan and the district began to replace two or three units per year for the last three years. Tuck pointing and problems with the cast-iron plumbing were noted as just two of the issues that are unseen but need to be addressed.
Larger classrooms made the list of concerns as current classrooms are 720 to 780 square feet; the recommended size is 900 square feet. More space was also recommended to accommodate title programs, all-day kindergarten, and Boost Up and Head Start preschool programs. The special needs department was noted as an area requiring revamping as portions of it are in the tower and are not accessible to the handicapped.
A larger cafeteria made the list of desirable features. Today, Koch School is capable of feeding 400 students, but only by implementing a limited schedule. Larger restrooms, better drop-off and pick-up areas for safety and to ease parking congestion, secure entrances away from classrooms, additional spaces for conferences and meetings, and spaces to expand educational services such as art also made the list of requested features.
Interest rates favor the project. Rates are fluctuating at or near historical lows. As part of the analysis of the tax impact of each option, Graf explained Milbank’s district evaluation is $880 million. Broken down to the value per student, at 960 students in the district, Milbank’s valuation sits at about $1 million per student. According to Graf that is above average.
Also according to Graf, most people agree something must be done. He encourages everyone to weigh in on the subject and said, “We want to hear from the people.”
Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, September 18. Voters in both city and rural precincts will cast their ballots in the lobby of Milbank High School. Polls will remain open from 7 a.m until 7 p.m. Keep up with The Valley Express for more information and updates.