Board looks at option of refinancing
The school district could generate $6 million or more by refinancing its general obligation bonds with no or little increase to the mill levy.
That could be part of the answer to funding much needed classroom space in the district, said Supt. James White at the school board meeting Monday night. Baldwin Junior High School could use two more classrooms next year. Baldwin Elementary School also is running out of room.
"That was exciting news to me," White said of the figures. "That opens up additional avenues."
Those avenues have so far included an architect's recommendation that the district build a new school to lessen the number of students at BES and BJHS, and the board's own idea to build onto the junior high as a more immediate solution.
The board will discuss those options and more with administrators during a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday March 5 at the district office. The meeting will be open to the public.
"We need to get our thoughts together," White said.
At the request of the school board, the Frangkiser Hutchens architectural firm provided plans for an addition to and partial remodeling of the junior high. The plans included a 17,000-square-foot addition of four classrooms, cafeteria, kitchen and media center. The addition on the southeast side of the school, also would allow for the construction of more classrooms. Plans also called for remodeling the current cafeteria into classrooms, moving the school office area to what is now the library and converting the current office area into an area for special education. Frangkiser Hutchens estimated the project would cost $2.5 million.
The architectural firm also provided the district with two more options for a new school. Previously, the firm had suggested a district fifth and sixth grade center or an elementary school that would include the sixth grade. Proposals from Monday night suggested taking the west building at Baldwin Elementary School "out of service," and replacing it at another location with a primary grade center (kindergarten through second grade), or an upper elementary school for grades 3-5. The 400-student primary grade center would cost about $7 million. The 350-student upper elementary school would cost about $6.3 million.
The board met in executive session Monday night to discuss land acquisition, but did not take any action.
White said the newest proposals for a new school are just some more options for the board to consider. He said if the district decides to discontinue using the 3-story, 80-year-old portion of BES, the building would still have much use as office, storage or recreational space.
"It is an old building," White said. "I think there are several possibilities for it that are positive."
While there are many options for school facilities for the school board to consider, White said the district definitely plans on pursuing the refinancing of its bonds. Without a mill levy increase, the district could generate $6 million by refinancing. With a one mill increase, the district could gain $7.3 million. Either option would increase the length of the bond levy to 20 years about six additional years.
"That would allow us to move forward more quickly than we expected," White said of refinancing. "First we have to decide what we want to do."
Board members expressed interest in not making a hurried decision, as requested by representatives of the BES Parent Teacher Organization.
"We are seriously concerned about the size of BES," said PTO president Cheryl McCrary. "We are bigger than all but three schools in Lawrence, and that just isn't right."
McCrary said school size influences learning outcomes, and said research endorses school populations of less than 400. BES has more than 400 students.
McCrary recommended setting school size guidelines within the district. Alison Bauer challenged the board to come up with the best solution for BES and the needs in other district buildings.
"Please don't make a decision in a hurry," Bauer said.
Refinancing the bonds would require a public vote. White didn't know when that would take place. However, he would like to have specific plans for the money before asking for approval from district patrons.