Options on the Table at PLT#3 Special Meeting

By Sarah Ford, AP Staff Writer

Though the future of PLT#3 district facilities is still in the air, the Board of Education is doing their due diligence before moving forward with a plan of action.
Read More

They held a special meeting on Wednesday, February 7 at the district office to continue the debate about future facilities, this time with a summary of data and direct feedback from parents and community members who were encouraged to attend the meeting.

In order to provide the best education to the district’s students while operating five buildings that includes three schools, the BOE hired an architectural firm in June 2022 to come up with a master plan for the district. Potential options for future facilities include renovating Prophetstown or Tampico Elementary Schools, building a new consolidated elementary, and/or building a new and separate high school. All projects will meet accessibility standards and provide modern learning environments.

Architect and Project Manager John A. Mahon and Architect Mark D. Miller of Bray Architects of Davenport, IA attended the special meeting virtually to give feedback and answer questions.   

“There’s only so many solutions available with the finances,” said Mahon. “The community knows there’s a master plan, and this is the first phase. They have to know there’s a bigger picture, and we can’t do it all right now.” He added that the BOE will have to make some hard decisions based on “what we have to have, and what we’d like to have in order to achieve what we want in a fiscally feasible and responsible way.”  

Superintendent Heidi Lensing provided a summary of factors that have already been determined, including classroom utilization at each of the district’s three schools, enrollment figures, district boundaries, transportation needs, and financials. Those combined with the architects’ recommendations, report, and assessment, as well as public feedback, will help determine the district’s direction.

Lensing said numbers for the construction projects are still rough estimates but provide a framework for the decision-making process. A new elementary building could cost $35 million, though that figure doesn’t include potential land purchase or utilities to handle the level of extra workload. Additionally, the host community for a new school could be a point of contention, on top of the transportation capabilities.

To renovate PES or TES, a rough figure of $15 million was given. TES is the favorable school for this option since its newer with higher rankings and has space to grow outwards. PES has limited space and parking, and a smaller footprint. To renovate PES, they’d have to build up instead of out. If they were to consolidate to TES, PES could be available to house 6-12 Campus students during the high school project and could eventually be sold.    

The high school project is estimated around the $20-30 million mark, “depending on how far you have to go,” said Lensing. This would include demolition of the existing aging high school to pave the way for a new building. During the process, the district would have to deal with student displacement, which could also be remedied by adding a classroom at the middle school wing to host students during construction. The high school is “most in need” regarding existing building conditions. 

The older wing of the high school.

Lensing added that ideas proposed by teachers or parents but not in the architect’s assessment is to keep operating as is. For this option to be approved, they would need to further study each buildings’ capacity and capabilities to determine what’s viable and feasible. Another suggestion it to eventually move the middle school to TES but no details have even been “hashed out.”

Transportation

Another key component of the process is to figure out transportation, which could include delayed start times or offering bus stops in central locations instead of at each house, especially in rural areas. “We may have to revamp it,” said Dawn Fisk, Transportation Director. “We won’t have time to pick everyone up at home. Our district population is not accustomed to it, but other districts do it, where you have to get to that spot for bus pick-up.”  

Funding

Lensing stated that the district’s financial borrowing power will heavily influence the decision-making process. They can’t get a traditional loan at a bank, and it’s unknown if grants can help fill any gaps. They could either borrow against the 1% sales tax fund or raise taxes by passing a referendum to pay for the project. Money would be saved by consolidating to one elementary building, with those cost savings applied to the high school project. The current cost-saving estimate to close one elementary school is at $250,000 – $300,000, though those numbers are usually underestimated. 

The state set new guidelines for an evidence-based funding formula. There is also increased Equalized Assessed Valuation (EAV) in communities. “Ours has gone up but we haven’t raised the tax rate. The property is assessed higher, and it’s been steadily going up since I’ve been here,” Lensing said. She also reported that ESSER funds will be ending this year in September. These “Covid” funds were used to offset education funds, curriculum development, materials, subscriptions, so the district will have to reassess those needs when the funding dries up.  

The biggest cost-savings will be realized with the elementary projects, which remains the best option for the district now. By downsizing to one elementary school and consolidating classrooms, they would see significant cost savings on utilities, insurance, and transportation.  

Community Input

Board members debated whether to give out a survey next, but since they don’t have the specifics set in stone, they wondered if they won’t get a true answer until people know the direction. Board member James Melton said they want to offer blueprints, but “we’re not even close to that” until they give the survey teams and architects more direction.

Mahon discussed an upcoming survey document that will measure the likelihood of community support. The survey will have specific questions such as goals for streamlining the buildings, what’s the order of priority, and what’s the funding preference, including a referendum. The survey could be based on the trend towards the elementary project, due to overall cost and savings.

Mahon said there’s still plenty of time to do this if they have a goal for the November 2025 election. They could send the survey out by the end of the school year in May. That would give time to record responses, mine the data, and get ready for a referendum.

The survey would go out to residents in the district, staff in the district, parents of students, and non-parent and non-staff, which makes up 75-85% of the residential population. “There’s more people with kids in school than not,” he added. In general, survey response rate is 20-30% of all households, which is at the threshold of statistically valid data. The BOE also discussed getting a “soft survey” out to parents to help deal with misinformation and rumors.

Teacher and Parent Comments

Community members contributed to the meeting, with the following remarks made:

“We want our children to have the best education they can get and it’s not happening now. Elementary students are separated, and the teachers feel better together.”

“We must leave out our emotions. Each community doesn’t want to send their kids to the other community, so where to start?”

“What are you hoping to hear? TES is a newer building with higher ranking. What do you want the community to support?

“I don’t mind driving an extra 10 minutes to school as long as the education is better. The math is going to work, just show us what you’re planning to give kids the best option. I think the majority of parents will understand, we just need to get that information out to the community.” 

“Less amount of work is needed at TES. There was a referendum 16 years ago that failed. It was a $22 million shovel ready project, with $7 million set aside, led by the Capital Development Board.”

“TES has less kids and a bigger building, but Tampico has no potential for growth, like subdivisions. In 15-20 years, senior tax exemptions will impact the district’s EAV.”  

“The teachers want to get the kids together. Just rip off the bandage!” 

Conclusion

The goal of the BOE is to be transparent and as open as possible, but in their efforts to prioritize one project or one location over the other, they’re still not ready to pursue one path. Melton remarked they’re dragging their feet so as not to anger families or the community. All agreed that it’s time to make the hard decisions to propel the process forward.  

Lensing said the Building & Grounds Committee will be meeting again soon and they need more dialogue around the next steps of the decision-making process. The next regular BOE meeting will be on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. at the PLT #3 Administrative Office, 79 Grove St. in Prophetstown.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Thank You for Contacting AroundPtown!

We have received your message and will be responding soon.

Skip to content