BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – The economic regression that’s followed the pandemic did not hinder progress of the $13 million Central Lee school district’s facilities renovation.
School officials held a limited grand opening of the new Pre-K-8 grade building in front of stakeholders, community members and media Friday morning.
Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier said the new building symbolized the district’s determination to continue serving the students of the district despite the hurdles of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 has brought all kinds of challenges for everyone. While a bit behind on our target date on this project, COVID was not able to derail the project, Crozier said.
“When we speak about symbolism for this project, this symbolizes how we were able to keep moving forward on all tasks even in the middle of the pandemic.”
Many of the Central Lee elementary students, in lieu of the district going to online learning, went to POD learning throughout the Montrose and Donnellson area to keep classroom work in effect.
Elementary Principal Heather Fuget said with the completion of the majority of construction including new secure entrances, office spaces, and common space learning area, students are also returning from the PODs
“It’s been exciting in general, but were bringing all our PODs back to the building and the students haven’t been seen here for a while because of all the things happening and the construction. So they’re coming back to a WOW,” Fuget said.
“Having these extra spaces for small groups to get out of the classrooms to have conversations and learn in a new and exciting environment is a great addition.”
The project began with the formation of a facility planning committee in 2017 to take a look at the 34-year-old campus. A VOTE YES committee was created to move forward with bond work, once the plans were formed.
The 2018 bond effort failed, but voters approved a second facilities upgrade referendum in 2019.
Bidding went out in March for the work which included rehabbing the elementary school and high school. The high school work is scheduled to be complete by the fall and will provide a new gymnasium, locker rooms, coaches offices, fine arts auditorium, and upgrades to the office areas, cafeteria, and common areas.
The projects broke ground in May.
Sara Newton, who spearheaded the VOTE YES committee said she’s happy the district put a priority on security.
“It’s so exiting. It’s a bigger space than I imagined and it looks so comfortable for the kids,” Newton said.
“When we were working on VOTE YES, this was the main selling point of the bond. People really wanted it to be a secure location. That was the first step the school prioritized and it’s just exciting to see this become a reality.”
Newton said her heart was broken with the first bond failure, but said the district did a good job putting together the second plan and being able to promote it without raising the tax rate of district voters.
District residents will still pay for the $13 million renovation, but overall tax rates didn’t increase because of increased district valuations, which helped push the district’s property tax rate down.
Brock Westfall, a member of the district’s school board, said the financial outlook enabled the district to borrow the money and not see an increase in what district residents paid last year.
“An important thing is we are able to give back to the community and the kids without raising the tax rate,” Westfall said. “These new security measures we’re the real priority, though.”
Crozier thanked the committees, the community, Pilot Grove Savings Bank and Connection Bank for financing, and the construction crews for their support in making the renovations a reality.
“I want to say Thank You not only as the superintendent of Central Lee, but as a parent of Central Lee students, and an alumni. I could not be more proud of the work we’ve accomplished in the last four years.”
Crozier said the Fine Arts room will be done by the end of April. The gyms and locker rooms will be finished in the summer and the rest of the work should be done before the start of the next school year.
“The Fine Arts will be done next month. That’s a great achievement and will be a spectacular space. People have no idea how awesome that’s going to be,” Crozier said.