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Fort Madison Schedules 4th Vote on Elementary School Bond

Richardson (top) and Lincoln Elementary Schools would be replaced by the new elementary school if voters approve a $30-million bond referendum in April.

The Fort Madison School District will again try to garner voter support for a bond referendum to pay for the construction of a new elementary school. This latest attempt will look slightly different than the three previous unsuccessful attempts.

The district has scheduled a special election for Tuesday, April 2. It is seeking voter approval to borrow $30 million. The new school would be built next to the middle school on the west side of the city.

It would replace Lincoln and Richardson Elementary Schools. School Board President Tim Wondra said replacing those two aging schools remains a top priority for the district. He said it’s essential to provide a positive learning environment for the district’s youngest students.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Tim Wondra

Wondra said an example of that is the need to make up school days lost to weather cancellations. He said the district must be careful because the two elementary schools do not have air conditioning.

“We had to really modify the calendar for the rest of the year so that we were not going into the middle of June because of the lack of air conditioning,” said Wondra. “We knew if we push the date back, we will have elementary school kids in very, very hot buildings and that is going to harm the quality of education. The higher quality of education we provide our students, the better they can do in life.”

Iowa law requires 60% approval to pass a bond referendum and Fort Madison has been getting gradually closer to that level.

  • Dec. 6, 2016 – Borrow $27 million – Yes 48.6%/No 51.4%
  • June 27, 2017 – Borrow $27 million – Yes 55.8%/No 44.2%
  • April 3, 2018 – Borrow $30 million* – Yes 59.3%/No 40.7%
  • *District said increase due to inflation/construction costs*

The first three public votes included the construction of the new school and construction of new baseball and softball fields. The new fields would help free up some much needed space at Fort Madison High School, which is landlocked. But Wondra said public input has shown the athletic fields are not popular.
“I was always hoping for softball fields and baseball fields because I know the condition of the current fields,” said Wondra. “But we have always heard, ‘Take those off, take those off,’ so we were like, ‘OK, we will take the fields off.’”

Wondra said another change will be to the design of the new elementary school. He said the district hired a new architectural firm (CMBA Architects) and a construction manager (Carl A Nelson Company) to offer fresh perspectives on the project.

“The design will be tweaked and they are still working on that. We can't get too in-depth because of the fees. We are conceptual. If we get too in-depth, we have to pay for that and I don’t want to pay thousands of dollars if the project is not going anywhere.”

Wondra said the district's current plan also reduces the impact on taxpayers thanks to a significant increase in property value district wide because of the new fertilizer plant near Wever and the crude oil pipeline through the county.

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