Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why build, why now? The three "N"s rationale for Norris building project

The Board of Education has determined that a bond issue will be before the Norris district in March, 2012.  The plan will call for a new grades 3, 4, 5 elementary school to be located just northwest of the existing middle school.

I have had many people ask me for my opinion about the issue and the timing of the request.  It is well known that Norris, just like the vast majority of districts across the state, underwent a budget cut in state aid last spring. While the Nebraska economy has remained relatively strong, we are still emerging from a recession and the economy is still in recovery mode.

With that said, it is actually an ideal time for Norris to move forward with a building project.

The rationale is quite simple.  There are three bases for it.

#1: The Need:

Our current Elementary school is at capacity.  We were already at 95% capacity when DLR and Olsson Associates completed a site development study on behalf of the district in 2008.  We haven't gotten any smaller since then. Our pk-4 Elementary enrollment sits at nearly 800 students!  In our desire to keep class sizes manageable, we have this year had to resort to holding one grade level classroom in a pod area.  Rubbermaid storage bins used as a makeshift wall do not constitute the sort of classroom environment we really want for our kids.  The last time the Board considered a bond issue was in the fall of 2003 for what became our middle school.  Our enrollment at that time was under 1700.  Today, we have over 2,050 students, nearly 20% growth.  Our numbers warrant this project and the time to move forward is now.

#2: The Numbers:

The numbers are very favorable financially.  Interest rates are approaching all-time lows and construction firms are aggressively seeking work and delivering projects at or below projected costs for similar work.  Through the Construction Manager @ Risk process we will use, the district will know the guaranteed maximum price and have clear oversight and control of the process.

Bonds funds are separate from the general fund of the district.  Bonds funds are set aside for clearly stipulated construction purposes.  We have bonds retiring from the 2000 Elementary School addition next year and, shortly after that, Qualified Capital Purpose Undertaking Funds bonds retiring from post-tornado facilities improvements.  By wrapping the new debt service into the old, there will be no change on the existing bond levy for our constituents.  We won't be asking for more from our taxpayers, just that they continue their commitment to meeting the needs of the growing Norris School District.  We believe this is the right thing to do and that our public expects us to meet the needs of our students.

We can build a new Elementary and possibly address some other facilities needs in our district and do so without any adverse effect on the existing bond levy.  Homeowners continue to pay what they have, and we meet the needs of Norris.  

While Norris had a general fund revenue cut in state aid due to the loss of federal recovery dollars, the district has emerged from that well positioned to sustain all programming and quality of operations going forward.

#3: The kNow-How (okay, technically, that is not a third "'N' for Norris" rationale but the 'k' is silent!):

The district enjoys excellent leadership and support.  Your trust is placed in capable and experienced hands and the guidance we rely upon comes from the best in the school business.  The combined years of experience of our Board of Education, our architectural service provider DLR, and our administrative team have seen districts including Norris through dozens of successful school construction projects.  We have adopted a delivery method for the process that will result in an efficient, expedient construction process that will produce a building to meet the needs of our district for many years to come.