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Residents of two southeast Iowa school districts will go to the polls on Tuesday, April 3rd to determine whether the districts should be allowed to borrow millions of dollars for new construction or facility upgrades.The Fort Madison School District says it needs $30-million to build a new elementary school and new high school baseball and softball fields.The Central Lee School District is seeking $9.8-million to help pay for enhanced security at its high school and K-8 building, a new high school gymnasium, several new classrooms and improved parking.Early voting is underway ahead of the April 3rd Elections.

Fort Madison Schools Again Seek Support for New Elementary School, Athletic Fields

Jason Parrott
If approved, the new PreK-3 school would replace Richardson (L) and Lincoln Elementary Schools.

The Fort Madison School District will hold a special election on April 3. Residents are again being asked to approve a plan to borrow $30 million to build a new elementary school and new high school baseball and softball fields.

This will be the third public vote on the bond issue for the school and athletic fields in the past 18 months. In December, 2016 it received 49% support while in June, 2017 the support increased to nearly 56%. But that was not enough as state law requires 60% support to pass.

The new school would house the district’s preschool through 3rd grade students. It would replace Lincoln and Jefferson Elementary Schools, which are each more than 100 years old.

“Our youngest students are currently trying to learn 21st Century skills in buildings that are older than most of their great grandparents,” said Jillian Troxel, who is one of the newest members of the Fort Madison School Board.

“The school district over the years has done an admirable job of trying to keep the buildings as functional as possible, but not only are we outgrowing those buildings as far as technology needs, but we are also outgrowing them in terms of space. Currently, in one of our elementary schools, we have a first grade section that has split the library into four sections for their classrooms.”

School Board President Tim Wondra said the new building would also address accessibility and security deficiencies at the existing elementary schools.

“At both elementary buildings right now you do have to buzz to get in, but then to get to the office at Lincoln you go down a long hall before you get to that, and right to your left when you walk through the doors is stairs to go up to multiple floors,” said Wondra. “So if you want to do harm, it would still be easy to do. At Richardson, you buzz in, you have to find your way to the office, which is down a hallway and up a flight of stairs.”

Troxel and Wondra said the new school would have enhanced security, accessibility for all students (which they said is not the case for some special needs students at Lincoln and Richardson), collaborative learning spaces, outdoor learning opportunities, and modern playground equipment. They said transportation would also be improved because all PreK-8 students would be going to the same area.

They said the district has a solid design for the new school, but input would be gathered during the design process if the bond issue is approved.

Troxel and Wondra said there are a few issues being raised in the community that seem to be drawing away some support. They include opposition to the inclusion of the new baseball and softball fields in the bond issue and the idea that the students do not need air conditioning in school (the current elementary schools are not air conditioned).

Wondra said the athletic fields are included in the bond issue because building them at the same time as the new school would save money as the heavy equipment would already be there for the construction of the new school. He said the current fields are not in good shape and they sit on the only land available to the district if it decides to expand the high school.

Wondra adds that the new fields at the nearby Baxter Sports Complex are not large enough for high school baseball or softball.

Troxel said she has a daughter at one of the elementary schools and at the beginning and end of the school year, her daughter always brings up how hot it is in the classrooms. There have been times when the district has dismissed or canceled school due to the heat in the buildings.

The district said if the $30 million bond referendum is approved, the owner of a $75,000 home (assessed value) would pay an additional $36/year in property taxes.

The district estimated that renovating the existing Lincoln and Richardson Elementary Schools would cost more more than building a single new school -- with an estimated price tag of more than $40 million.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.