Time is right for building two new schools, health dept.


I was driving home from somewhere Tuesday, surely passing myself going in two directions and I saw a pickup truck with a large wooden sign in the back that said “Vote No on Health Department, Schools”.

It was kind of an older truck, but still obviously able to serve a purpose and I smiled a little at the approach. But the fact that it seemed to be spray painted on a wooden platform turned vertical and strapped down in the back of a pickup seemed strikingly apropos, in my mind anyway. Sort of outdated, if you will.

In many ways our local elementary schools, both catholic and public, and our county health department are also out of time.

They’re expensive, to be sure. All told we’re talking about $35.6 million in new construction. The proposed K-3 Elementary school is priced at $27 million, while the new Holy Trinity Catholic campus addition is tagged at $6 million, and the new health department is set at $2.6 million. The health department building will be shared by all county tax payers, the new public elementary would be supported by tax payers in the district and Holy Trinity is solely on donations to the project.

HTC needs $3.6 million to start the project per requirements of the Diocese, and on Wednesday, Brian Foecke, the building chairman for HTC, said he hopes to have that by mid-summer with hopes of starting construction at the end of the 2018 school year. They want to minimize the displacement of students to one year.

The Health Department is on the ballot on Tuesday and they have an air quality issue now that has them out of the building. The savings in rent and maintenance alone makes up more than half of the bond amount and a $100,000 home will see a $7 bump in property tax per year. The building is centrally located to Lee County’s population centers and is a well-designed structure to accommodate the needs of the county now and well into the future. The current building has served it’s purpose well, but it’s time.

The Elementary bond issue has been slated for June 27 and failed last year. It was an unfortunate failure because people who voted against bringing the education of our children into the 21st century (16 years late by the way) voted no because they still had questions. People talk about the education that’s going on in these schools, and this includes the Catholic System, as well. We have great teachers and great administrators who go in every day and teach our children with the tools provided to them. Getting the job done.

But I ask you sincerely to think about this. What could it be like for our children and our teachers? We know what it’s like now, but what could it be like. Just for a minute, put the partisan stuff aside…forget that there will be changes in transportation. Forget about the physicality of the projects. Forget, for just a brief moment, about old adages that it was good enough for us. Think about what it could be! Imagine our children in north Lee County in an environment unlike anything they’ve seen before. Unlike anything most of us have ever seen before.

Education is a boondoggle in this country in a time where it should be, and could be, the envy of the world. We have the resources, knowledge, and technology to compete on a world stage today. But we stand almost alone in how we, locally, educate our children in schools that were state-of-the-art 40, even 50, years ago. It’s unequivocally unfair to every student that goes into those schools every day that we haven’t yet said …”You are the future. Let us lead you there”. Instead we say “no” to giving them a template to be the next world leader, CEO,  the next Nobel Prize winner, or even the next teacher of the year.

We can no longer say “No”. When we publish stories on the referendums, we see many threads on our social media outlets reflecting both sides of the equation. I’ve been reading them. I can tell you without a doubt, the answers to your questions are a simple phone call, conversation or community meeting away. Just ask. Transportation…they have a sensible plan. Why build there…they can and are willing to explain it to you. Are you willing to ask? Get informed on your concerns and see the plan and how it pertains to the future.

I’m supporting both new schools and the health department. What does it say to those looking at growth here that we realize we’re behind, and, in some cases, disturbingly behind, in our facilities and choose not to improve. Children working collaboratively with teachers at all our local schools…a health department this is focused on infant to senior health programming and one of the most heralded in the state. What could it be? Where can we go?

Here’s a challenge. If you vote yes for the new Fort Madison Public Elementary School, pledge the same amount you will pay in property taxes over 20 years in support of that building, to the HTC project. That’s what my family will be doing. If you’re supporting and contributing to the new HTC elementary, then vote “Yes” for the public facility.  It really can’t be an us or them proposition – for they truly are all of our children.

And when we accept that…, when we fulfill that promise to them…,when we put the education and health of our children in its rightful lofty place in a long list of priorities…, then we expose ourselves to something truly phenomenal.

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