By VICTORIA CALDERON
• Leader & Times
At a special meeting of the USD No. 480 Board of Education Wednesday night, the slightly controversial Resolution 05-28-14 was debated and voted on.
The resolution was for the moving of $5 million in bond money from a debt service account to a construction improvement fund. According to Business and Finance Director Jerry Clay, the purpose of the resolution is “to be able to move part of that premium interest into construction project funds” in order to allow for more flexibility within the building of the new schools. The amount of money in the debt service account will be reduced from $9 million to $4 million as a result.
The additional money in the improvement fund will be used to fund extra square footage in the middle schools. The original prototype from the bond campaign allowed for 98,000 square feet for the middle schools, but even after the DLR Group and JE Dunn removed an extra educational wing, the performing arts wing, and the exterior masonry around the building, the school prototype’s square footage was still around 109,000.
“There are some other things we can do that may get it down to 108,000. But without specifically taking out the access space, the administration within the media center, the vocal and band areas and maybe the instrument shop, we won’t get any lower than that. But what we’re trying to do is use the design contingencies on the soft costs that were budgeted to help balance that, and maybe get you a little more for your program that can get you further down the line in the future,” Brad Kiehl, a representative from the DLR Group, told the board.
Although the money would be taken out of the account that interest payments are made out of, it would not affect the long term payment of the bonds. The bonds will still be paid off in 25 years without costing the taxpayers anything else.
“We’re moving $5 million over into the bond construction project, and if it is not needed within the bond construction project, it can be moved back into the bond fund to pay principal and interest. You can do that at the time of close. Once the bonds close, you cannot move money from the bond and interest fund to the construction project. That has to be done before bonds close,” Clay said. “It doesn’t cost the taxpayers any more, they’re still paying back $127,865,000.”
There are other ways the board can save money on construction. Aside from additional reductions in middle school square footage, the board can see if the city could waive inspection fees. However, even with savings from these costs, construction costs could change. The movement of money to the construction fund would give the project leeway without having to trim the new school buildings down.
“This is merely a technicality to allow for flexibility without a commitment,” board member Matt Durler said.
Several board members believed that the extra money for the construction project would be beneficial for the community in the long run.
“We have one chance to do this thing right. The last thing that I would want to have happen is to have a facility that is disappointing to the community because we squabbled over little trivial things here at the beginning,” member Nick Hatcher said. “It’s more important to me to make sure that the facilities that we are getting built are exactly what the community wants. And if we can do that without costing the community any more than what we said, then it’s in the community’s best interest and our best interest to make that happen.”
Not every board member agreed with reallocating the funds in this way, though.
“We would be decreasing the (bond) term if we left this money alone. If we as a board continue to roll this term out, I disagree. I think we’ll find the tax initiative that we have in sales tax will pay this thing off early,” board member Matt Friederich said. “We saw the premium, we saw how the $9 million was going to play into this equation, this bond situation. Now we’re altering this. Ultimately, we’re altering what our public voted on not even two months ago. I’ve got a problem with that.”
However, the necessity of allowing room for changes in construction cost and prototype design manipulations won out with the board.
“In a project this size, flexibility this early in the game is really important, because there are so many unknowns that we can’t even begin to mention right now... I think restricting flexibility at this point is a big disservice to all of us,” Durler said.
The resolution passed 4-2.