Board may consider levy to start improvements

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – A consultant with Estes Construction updated the Fort Madison School board Monday night on some preliminary cost estimates for needed work at three schools, and a recommendation was made to pay for the improvements with a physical plant levy.

Estes Construction Vice President Paul Neuharth, presented the school board with initial assessment summaries at the board’s regular meeting at the school administration office.

The assessments looked at Richardson, Lincoln and the high school and investigated electrical, mechanical, plumbing, safety and security issues, but did not address any upgrades or enhancements for educational purposes.

The company was hired by the district’s Director of Operations Nic Chiri for $22,000 in late October after hearing from a facilities committee set up to look into the conditions of the district’s buildings.

Neuharth said the assessment isn’t finished but should be by the end of the year. After that is complete, Estes staff will complete a Qualitative Learning Environmental Outcome (QLEO) analysis.

“This part is where we’re starting from and the next part is the QLEO analysis and that tells us what we’re gonna do,” he told the board.

Neuharth said nothing has been decided on how to resolve any of the assessment results.

Each school assessment was broken down into four categories: Safety and Security, Building Improvements, Site Improvements, and Planned Capital Improvements.

At Lincoln, the assessment concluded with a preliminary cost estimate range of $5.2 million to $6.4 million with only one urgent improvement, which was providing a new secure entrance. The assessment pointed to seven required improvements, which are typically code-based improvements, and four recommended improvements.

Richardson had a higher cost estimate at $7.7 million to $9.3 million with a new secure entrance, as well as roofing, openings, structural repairs and tuckpointing listed as urgent. Eight items were listed as required and two were recommended.

The complete breakdown of the assessment can be found at: https://www.fmcsd.org/2019/12/16/facility-committee-reviews-estes-findings/

At Fort Madison High School, the assessment carried a preliminary cost estimate of $11.2 million to $13 million and had no urgent recommendations.

Board member Carol Ross, who sits on the facilities committee along with board members Dianne Hope and Brian Steffensmeier and school staff, said it was the facilities committee’s recommendation to put a PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) in front of voters in March to help pay for some of the improvements.

“Diane, myself and Brian saw the presentation last week and we talked about it and it is our recommendation that the board consider a voted PPEL,” Ross said.

“We should talk about that at our meeting in January on the 6th and we would get to do that for zero tax impact.”

Ross’ statement of a zero tax impact means that the property taxpayers in the district won’t see an increase on their tax bill if the PPEL vote is passed. Passage would only require a 50% +1 simple majority. The previous general obligation bonds required a supermajority vote of 60% +1 vote.

That vote, if the board approves to put the PPEL fund increase on a ballot, could take place in March. It would be a property tax levy that would carry a cost per $1,000 of equalized assessed valuation on property in the district.

According to a statement posted on the school’s website from the facilities committee, the PPEL levy is the best way to go in light of recent defeats of bond issues, as the best way to start improving district facilities. The statement also indicates its possible that $22 million could be freed up if in 2021 the district were able to pay off the sales tax bonds used to build the junior high.

“As the community is aware, we have tried four times to get a GO Bond passed. Our reality is that our oldest buildings need substantial and costly maintenance and improvements and we are at a point where this needs to be addressed.  With that in mind it is the recommendation of the facilities committee that the school board pursue a vote of PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) in March of 2020, at a time where it will have a zero tax impact on taxpayers in the Fort Madison Community District. To pass, the voted PPEL will need voter approval to be at 50% +1. The PPEL is utilized by school districts across the state of Iowa to provide funding for maintenance projects, repairs, and purchase of transportation equipment.”

The committee is also looking to put together another committee for future steps in the process. That committee would include district parents, students, elected officials, school staff, and additional community members, who will help formulate long-range plans for the facility improvements.

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