Beatrice School Board takes step toward potential lease-purchase of new pre-kindergarten through 5th grade building

BEATRICE – The Beatrice Public School District is looking at building a new prekindergarten through fifth grade school, while not adding new taxes. The district is looking at a long-term lease purchase, paying for the project by redirecting more of the district’s general fund into its building fund.
The Beatrice School Board took a first step Monday night, approving a business plan with Johnson Controls Corporation. The first-phase of the agreement involves preliminary development, design and cost analysis.

Superintendent Jason Alexander says the proposal involves the district’s special building fund levy, which is currently at eight cents.
"We committed a few more cents from our general fund to our special building fund, to be able to start to begin the discussion of this. What we found out, we could survive eight cents in our special building fund...we could make that happen. So now, in the budget preparation for the coming year, the question is can we do that with ten cents?"

Alexander says the district could commit ten cents to a building levy and still operate, committing to that for a ten-year period. The current elementary buildings are facing code problems and outdated ventilation system.

"Fire code code violations most recently from the food inspector. We also have ADA compliance issues, security and surveillance issues. This summer, we've had multiple issues at one of our elementary schools with everything from dumpster fires to windows being shot out in that particular school...and we have no security cameras there, to address that."

The district is considering an estimated $40 million, 120,000 square foot pre-K through fifth grade building. A bond issue is another option, but district voters have twice soundly rejected bond issues for an elementary school.  Vince Ardito of Johnson Controls says use of the school’s building fund, combined with operational cost savings, makes the idea of a lease-purchase design-build project realistic.  "If you can improved the life-cycle costs, you don't get into the situation you're in today, with all the deferred maintenance and all those concerns where you've got ventilation hung up there with shoestrings, and those types of things. So, that's a very important part....and eliminating duplicate high-cost space."

A local developer and plumbing business owner, Todd Hydo, told the school board and administration a bond issue could face a tough road, especially with the community having already committed to finishing a new fire and rescue station.

"We're a small enough community, it's kind of one person to the well right now. Obviously, it's the fire public works, at a time. You have to let the dust settle a little bit, and then the next up gets to do their project, whether its a school project, a city project or a county project. It's hard to do two big public projects in Beatrice at one time."

Superintendent Alexander says if the Pre-K through fifth grade project could be handled within the school’s current budget, the question becomes, could the community then step forward to finance a new middle school….also an aging structure in the district.

On the elementary project, Ardito explained what happens.  "We build it, and then lease it back to the district over a period of time...and then we hand the keys over after whatever that negotiated time is....and then you have 75 percent life left in the building."

School Board member Erin Chadwick says there is a need for a new elementary school, based on the conditions faced at the current buildings, but the public must be convinced of that.  "Just having lived here during both of the previous bond issues...the perception was just so poor of the district from the community's eyes....and I hated that, because I was excited to send my kids to school and I just want the community to feel comfortable with our decision and have them be a part of it."

One element of the process with a new design-build elementary school involves setting a guaranteed maximum cost that won’t be exceeded…..a figure Ardito says is yet to be determined.