Big needs, big money

Columbus School District explains two bonds on Nov. 6 election ballot
By: 
MIkaela Koski
Thursday, October 25, 2018

There is an issue on the 2018 general election ballot that is of great importance to the Columbus School District.

Included on the ballot are two school bonds, together totaling $15.4 million, that would provide funding for designing, constructing, equipping and furnishing improvements to the elementary, middle, and high school facilities.

The elementary and high school bonds are separate ballot issues, with each requiring a yay or nay vote.

ELEMENTARY BOND

The elementary bond, to cover grades kindergarten through eighth, is for a total of $11.265 million.

Columbus’ elementary facility, that houses kindergarten through fifth grade, has been dealing with problems that accompany an overcrowded and aging building.

The district’s plan for renovating the elementary school includes remodeling, demolishing the pod, constructing new additions, and extending the playground area.

Specifically, the renovations include constructing new additions with additional classrooms in the southern end of the property, as well as in the northern end of the property where the current pod is located, according to Columbus Superintendent Jeff Bermes.  A new entry space will also be added to the elementary.

As for the existing classrooms, the bond documents describe how the gymnasium and classrooms will be remodeled to “enhance learning environments.”  The library will be expanded, and a commons/cafeteria space will be created.  Maintenance and building systems will also be upgraded.

The elementary playground will be expanded to include land the school district owns that is currently on the other side of Third Street North.  In September, the Columbus City Council approved the district’s request to vacate the portion of Third Street North between the school’s properties so the road could be fenced off to create a secure playground area for the students.  The road will be vacated next April, regardless of whether or not the elementary bond passes.

The district also plans to tackle traffic problems that arise at the elementary during drop-off and pick-up times with a new “safe and secure” loading and unloading area at the north end of the property.  There will be a separate area designated for school buses, as well as a new staff parking area.

The elementary bond also covers renovations to Columbus Middle School, although grades six through eight are located in a building connected to the high school rather than in the elementary school.

At the middle school, the renovations include reconfiguring and updating classroom space, as well as upgrading electrical and mechanical systems.  A commons area will be created for the middle school students.

HIGH SCHOOL BOND

While the elementary school project is the most pressing and will begin first, the Columbus School District is also planning renovations for the high school in the near future, and is seeking the bond for that project as well.

The high school bond is for a total of $4.135 million.  The high school district includes grades 9-12.

The project includes the addition of a new entry/commons area, as well as new administrative offices.  Several important areas in the building will be remodeled, including the library, computer lab, and weight room, according to the plan. Electrical and mechanical systems will be upgraded during the project.

SHARED PROJECT

There are a couple aspects of the elementary and high school projects that overlap due to how the schools are physically set up. The first is the kitchen.  Currently, the kitchen is located in the high school building and the food for all district students, kindergarteners through seniors, is made there.  Because the kitchen is shared between the elementary and high school districts, funds from each bond will go toward kitchen expansion and remodeling. Due to the middle school facility (technically part of the elementary district) being located in the same building as the high school, there are several other joint endeavors that would require funding from both bonds, including the installation of a new fire alarm system, reconfiguration of parking, and upgrading electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems.

WHAT IF ONLY ONE PASSES?

The fact that the bonds are separate, yet rely on each other when it comes to funding a couple aspects of the projects raises the question: What happens if only one of the bonds passes? In the bond documents, that exact scenario is addressed.   If the elementary bond were to pass while the high school bond fails, the total elementary bond amount would decrease to $10.19 million (originally $11.265 million).  This is because the new kitchen and middle school renovation projects would no longer take place, as both bonds are needed to fully fund those portions of the projects. If only the high school bond were to pass, the total high school bond would drop from $4.135 million to $3.76 million.  As with the elementary school, the kitchen and middle school portions of the projects would not take place.

BOND BREAKDOWN

The $15.4 million total for both bonds together is set to be paid back semiannually during a term of no more than 20 years.   As far as local taxes are concerned, this new bond will cost $178.35 per year for a home valued at $200,000.  This breaks down to $14.86 per month. According to Bermes, the median house in Columbus is worth $138,807.  At that price, the annual bond payment (for the elementary and high school bonds combined) would be $123.40.  That number breaks down to a monthly payment of $10.28. The last school bond, passed in 1997, was completely paid off by the school last July.  If the new bonds were to pass, citizens will not have a school bond included on their taxes until next tax year, as that is when the new bonds will go into effect. The school is holding its second informational meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 7 p.m. in the elementary school cafeteria.  At the meeting, Bermes will explain the scope of the building projects and the associated costs to be covered by the bonds.  He will also answer any questions community members may have. Contact Bermes at 322-5373 or jbermes@columbus.k12.mt.us with any additional questions.

ELECTION INFO

The general election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6.  The polling place for those within the Columbus School District is the Stillwater Pavillion; it will be open for voting from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. The bonds are the last issues on the ballot, and are located on the third side (second page) of the ballot. Only residents living within the boundaries of the Columbus School District will place votes for these school bonds.  

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