Othello School Board discusses facility priorities

Tentative prioroty list established; costs sought

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OTHELLO — New classrooms to help reduce kindergarten through third grade class sizes, new classrooms at Othello High School and gyms at three elementary schools are the tentative priorities established at an Othello School Board workshop Monday.

Board chair Rob Simmons said the priority list could change. “It's not set in stone. We're just trying to get some ideas and numbers.”

“You've got to start somewhere,” said Derek Miller of Architects West. The company is working with district officials on the project. The board asked for cost estimates on the prioritized plans, and will hold a second workshop Feb. 4 to discuss the results.

Simmons said the goal is to address the priorities as quickly and economically as possible. That could require a bond, but the district could have the option of a capital levy, or using some of the district's own money. The district also is eligible for a grant to reduce K-3 class sizes.

“I'd like to do it without a bond, if we could. That would be my preference. Even if it comes down to where we start moving money from the general fund to capital projects every year, as part of the budget process (for a few years). We know we have some things we can do now, we know we have some grant money, if we were to budget and have a capital levy, we might be able to plan it without doing a bond.”

Board member Tony Ashton said he would prefer a bond. ‘You're still better off, even if it's a small bond, to do a bond. Because of what you can do.”

Ashton said part of the decision process should be a facility plan. “I'd just like to see a long-term plan.” Some district residents have told him they think some of the previous expansion at OHS was poorly planned, Ashton said.

“It affects some of the decisions you make now, too,” Ashton said, “because if you run a bond now that totally takes up all your debt cap, you don't have any options (in the future).” The district will be eligible for facility modernization funds from the state in about a decade, and the current board wants to maximize the district's options when it comes to using that money.

Othello is eligible for a $2.21 million state grant to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. Board members asked the consultants to determine the cost of constructing six classrooms at Wahitis Elementary and four at Scootney Springs Elementary, with the goal of using those to reduce K-3 class size. They also asked about using the grant to build a separate facility for kindergarten or preschool. A qualifying project would be reimbursed, and the district could use the reimbursement for another project, Simmons said.

The second priority was nine classrooms at OHS. The community committee that evaluated district facilities also recommended remodeling 12 classrooms at the high school, but Ashton said the priority is accommodating the anticipated growth at OHS.

The committee recommended new gyms at Scootney Springs, Hiawatha and Lutacaga elementaries, and the board asked for an estimate on those, as well as additional food storage at the three elementaries. The committee recommended a central warehouse for food storage, and board members asked for an estimate on a building, although leasing or purchase options might be available for that, Ashton said.

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