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Commentary: Menahga School building project is necessary

By Menahga School Board members

This letter is the first of two commentaries by Menahga School Board members.

Why is the Menahga School Board writing this position statement?

As a board, we feel the Nov. 4 bond election decision will impact the success and future of our school and community. As the election date approaches, misinformation has been circulated by individuals opposed to the building bond referendum, or opinions are misrepresented as facts. Collectively, as a board, we have sought input and retained professionals to help guide us through this process, presented validated information and honestly answered questions.

Misstatement 1 – The proposed plan was rushed. The board has been dealing with, and has been forced to address space needs since before 2007. We submitted the first bond request in 2009, which failed. Since the last failed bond referendum in Aug 2010, there have been three different building committees working to address the District’s growth and multiple options entertained. Here is the timeline of events that bring us again to this point with a bond referendum project request to the voters:

2006-10 – Many, many meetings, building committees and three bond referendum attempts were made to deal with then and future anticipated growth.

2011 – Building Advisory Committee (BAC) addresses the District’s non-compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and physical education space issues.

2012 – Enrollment increases by 58 additional resident students. A BAC is organized and the District goes out for bids to hire a new architect. The school board chooses Foss Architectures and Interiors.

March 22, 2012 – At the BAC meeting, Foss owner and architect Bob Ames is directed to bring ideas to address the district’s immediate needs and begin developing ideas for the future needs and growth of the Menahga School District. Mr. Ames began gathering data about the district and community.

2013 – Enrollment again increases by 54 additional resident students.

October 2013 – A community meeting is held to inform the community of the desperate space issues the school district is facing. From that point on, the Menahga School Board and administration spends the 2013-14 winter researching short term options to address its building needs and holds three community meetings to invite community members to join a new building advisory committee.

January-March 2014 – Board members visit Edgewood Middle School to learn about a hands-on approach to teaching and learning. The board also unanimously embraces the World’s Best Workforce legislation, and a restructuring of our current K-12 building into a model for K-4 elementary, 5-8 middle school and 9-12 high school all within our building by adding new space for a high school

April 2014 – Building Advisory Committee (BAC) is formed and learns of present space needs and future growth predictions. Architect is directed to return to the next meeting with design options and plans for an academy style high school expansion.

May 2014 – BAC reviews and provides input on four expansion options.

June 2014 – BAC reviews cost effectiveness of various exterior building materials.

July 2014 – BAC commits to academy-style design and reviews funding options and timelines. Consensus from committee to communicate urgency for building and timeline needed to ensure building is ready for 2016-17 school year.

August 2014 – BAC reviews plan, reviews funding options and building timeline. School board passes building bond referendum resolution at regular board meeting.

Misstatement 2 – The project is too big. Some in our community have been misled with the idea that we may be over-building with this project proposal, and if bond referendum does not pass, that this board will simply come back and submit a smaller project to the voters.

Going back to 2009 with two subsequent bond requests that failed, many options and scaled down projects or ideas have been discussed or presented. In the meantime, growth has continued and the board has had to take piece meal steps to address space issues.

Unfortunately, we assumed back in 2009 that coming back with smaller projects would be more acceptable to the voters. The voters promptly rejected those requests two more times. What it said to the voters is that we could get by with less, or that the needs weren’t real. We can disagree on ideas or semantics, but we believe the project before us is truly the best option to meet our current and future space needs. We feel it is unproductive to come back to voters with something smaller.

Every short term fix that we’ve created for space is completely full, and we are still short major space. We have no borrowing authority left, and have accumulated over 7 million in debt from this piece meal approach, and there is no end in sight if the current bond referendum request isn’t supported. We will be forced to again struggle with piece meal building projects like we have had to do; much larger class sizes; continued capping enrollment and turning away students and families. And there may be other unfortunate options we will have to consider. In spite of the fact that many building ideas or plans have been talked about or presented, the project before the voters is the plan that the majority of the board supports.