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Mason City school board down to two options for pool and gym
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Mason City school board down to two options for pool and gym

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Fieldhouse or gym and swimming pool, a $21 million to $31 million expense: that's the question facing the Mason City Community School District Board. 

After some fine-tuning on both options, and with all the specifics and information, the school board will make a final decision on which option they go with in February and go from there with funding and planning.

The school board will put a revenue statement renewal resolution on the budget for March 3 to extend how they can use their Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) funds past the statement's current expiration date of Dec. 31, 2030.

Superintendent Dave Versteeg said at the board's meeting on Monday night that new debt issued past 2031 will need a new revenue purpose statement, no matter which gym and pool option the board will decide on.

In drawing the different options for the school board, architectural firm Bergland and Cram kept the board's top priorities for the pool, the auxiliary gym and the flow in mind.

The pool priorities were eight lanes for competition, 1-meter diving for competition, deck space, seating for 500 people, and adequate locker space.

The gym priorities were to have it on campus with proximity to existing lockers, a weight room of adequate size, a flexible multipurpose space, an indoor track, and locker rooms.

The flow priorities were to have the additions be safe and secure, have access to parking, entry clarity for the public, flexible, good supervision, and be student-friendly.

The school board has two paths ahead of them: either go all out with a field house project, which includes two full-length gyms with four cross courts, a pool and a multipurpose room, complete with new locker rooms, storage spaces and commons areas, or stick to their budget but keep the essentials and priorities, which includes a full-length gym with two cross courts, new locker rooms, storage and commons area.

The field house option can cost between $27 million and $31 million, while the budget option can cost between $19 million and $21.5 million. 

The district can pay for the budget option through physical plant and equipment levies (PPEL) and Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) revenue bonds. However, for the field house, the district will have to raise $11.7 million through general obligation bonds, which will have to be approved by voters, in addition to using the PPEL and SAVE funds.

Alternatively, though, if the field house was built as a metal building, the costs can be between $24 million and $27 million, all of which can be paid without general obligation bonds, and therefore not affecting property taxes at all, if costs are kept at $26.2 million or lower. 

Versteeg said the district can use $1.9 million in PPEL bonds and $24.3 million in SAVE revenue bonds, borrowing for 20 years, which brings them to $26.2 million. Any remaining difference can be paid with PPEL bonds if needed.

Board member Lorrie Lala said she didn't want to take this to the public for a bond issuance.

"I would be in favor if we could keep it in-house, not have to put it to a vote, I would be in favor of going up so we could get more of what we want," she said.

The danger with this plan, though, is possibly stretching the budget resources too thin for too long and not be prepared for any future disasters, board member Jacob Schweitzer said.

"Things are going to break, roofs are going to need to be replaced, and if we're only holding back $800,000 a year, is that truly going to be enough?" he said.

Board member Katherine Koehler, however, was on the opposite end of the spectrum, saying they need all the new facilities not just to get more kids engaged in athletics but also to bring the community together.

"What I'm concerned about is not being visionary enough," she said.

School Board President Jodi Draper said they need to get this project done now because it was in the works six years ago and if they wait another six years, they might still be asking for more information because things change over time.

"What we have heard, I will say that we need some of these things," she said. "I don't know that I can say we need all of them, but I'm also not a coach and a teacher and a student, and so their definition of need and mine might be very different. If we can do it and not take it to the taxpayer and get pretty much all of this, then I'm in favor for it."

Schools are investments into the community, and better athletic facilities draw more students, Draper said.

Bergland and Cram will fine-tune both options for the school board, with the field house as a metal building, including more specific cost estimates. These will be ready at the beginning of February.

Having been presented with these two options during their December board meeting, the school board will decide which path to take during their Feb. 4 committee of the whole meeting as a special meeting.

"We do need to make a decision, and we just have to pull the trigger, yes or no," Draper said.

If they go for the field house, the bond issue vote will be September 2020. If the bond issue of $11.7 million passes, construction expected to start May 2021 and finish September 2022.

If they go for a metal field house, and the revenue purpose statement is approved in the March 3 ballot, the timeline for the field house may be pushed up a bit.

If they go for the budget option, construction will start August 2020 and will be expected to finish by October 2021.

Grace Zaplatynsky can be reached at 641-421-0534.

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