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As bond election approaches, the community hears reason behind drive for a new school

 

The prospect of funding a new and modern elementary school with higher property taxes is cause for debate among Sidney residents.

A bond election wherein residents will decide whether or not to fund the school is scheduled for Sept. 10. The bond is set at nearly $16 million and would raise property taxes by around $125 per year for every $100,000 worth of property, according to Sidney schools superintendent Jay Ehler. The exact cost cannot be finalized until the interest rates are determined, if the bond passes.

"Really, the school board has decided that this is the time to build a new school," Ehler said. "We do have aging facilities."

Proponents of the measure list several reasons for the proposed facility, ranging from space to the long term cost of maintaning and upgrading Sidney's existing structures.

Various programs in Sidney elementary schools don't currently have enough space and installing new technology is challenging, Ehler commented.

"It's just much harder in an old building that was not built for those kinds of things," Ehler said.

The school board feels that right now would be the best time to build a school, in order to save money in the long run.

"What it comes down to is, sooner or later this needs to happen," Ehler said. "The school board has made the financial decision that this is the right time because of low interest rates and low construction costs."

Those interest rates are expected to rise, so that a $16 million building in 2014 might cost $20 million in the coming years, Ehler said.

The cost of the bond was decided by asking two separate construction companies to conduct a cost estimate on new elementary schools that included all the amenities Sidney needs, with the size that Sidney requires.

Major upgrades would include the ability to access technology and more space for programs. Other positives will be cheaper utilities and fewer maintenance concerns.

"I think that having a new school with all the latest state of the art upgrades is going to be attractive for people that might be considering a move to Sidney," Ehler said. "It would be a good improvement for our community as a whole."

Student overcrowding isn't a problem at this time, but school officials anticipate that it will be an issue in the future.

"It appears that those who are moving into Sidney are those that are going to be having elementary-aged students in the upcoming years," Ehler said.

The school district plans to sell or donate the North and South schools, if a new school is built.

"Sidney Public Schools, the city and Cabela's all want those to end up being property that is good for Sidney," Ehler said.

No plans have been finalized for possible uses for the old schools.

"The three groups have made a commitment that they're not just going to sit around and be an eyesore for the community," Ehler said.

Sidney schools plans to keep the central building.

Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act is another issue facing the aging schools. When buildings are older, they don't have to be up to the latest code. If Sidney public schools were to do any renovations to the existing buildings, ADA compliance would have to be a part of those upgrades, which could become very expensive.

"The old schools are not completely ADA compliant and that is one thing we have to address," Ehler said. "So that could be a serious issue in the future because that would be very costly to have to do a big makeover in order to make them ADA compliant."

The new school would be located on Fort Sidney Road and the new Toledo extension. This is a large area where the ground will be built up to bring it out of the floodplain.

"It should be a great campus-like setting," Ehler said. "Because of all the green space that will be able to be around it."

Consolidating the schools would alleviate transportation issues for parents who now have children in different buildings, Ehler added.

The school will continue to have many pick up and drop off points throughout the city and breakfast will still be available in the morning before school, Ehler said. He does not anticipate any significant changes in staffing, if a new school is built.

"Sidney Public Schools and the school board definitely sympathize with taxes on the rise," Ehler said. "We already pay more than our share here in Sidney. That made this a tough decision initially. However, because of the age of our buildings, the school board made the decision that this needed to happen in the near future."

Sidney residents are divided when it comes to the possibility of higher taxes in return for a new school.

"We need a new K-4 school," said Brent Joyce, a teacher at Sidney High School.

After working in the old high school and now the new high school, Joyce thinks that updated facilities are better educationally and create a more positive learning environment. He also predicts that centralizing the schools could save some money.

"We could use it," Joyce said. "It's pretty nice to work in new buildings."

Some residents are adamantly opposed to the new school.

"It's pointless," Ralph Cox said. "We definitely need new roads instead of a school."

The current elementary schools are just fine, Cox added.

Gaylene Howard agreed with Cox and both expressed concern about the state of the roads on the north side of Sidney, where they both live.

"There's much more stuff they could spend their money on," Howard said.

While many Sidney residents are passionate about whether or not a new elementary school is needed, some are also in the undecided camp.

The current elementary school buildings are older and need to be replaced, said Randy Sonnie who works in the x-ray department at Sidney Regional Medical Center. He also thinks that right now is a smart time to build the school because of good interest rates. On the other hand, Sonnie also feels that property taxes are already too high and this new bond will drive them higher. This in turn might make life difficult for those living on fixed incomes, Sonnie added

"There are good points both ways," he said.

School officials assure Sidney's people that they always have the interests of the entire community in mind.

"The school board is trying hard to do what's best for Sidney and its kids," Ehler said.

 

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