DUNKERTON — The oldest part of Dunkerton Community School has largely fallen into disuse by the district.
Built in 1921, the structure still houses two classrooms on the first floor. But the second and third stories serve primarily as storage, its rooms filled with old desks and other school furniture. Classrooms moved out of the building over the decades as new wings were added, the most recent a junior/senior high school constructed four years ago.
Now voters can weigh-in on whether the obsolete building should be razed and replaced. A $6 million bond issue referendum on the Sept. 12 election ballot would fund the demolition and construction of a two-story 24,000-square-foot addition on the same spot. It also would pay for remodeling the existing elementary wing.
Since the district is currently paying off a bond issue for earlier school improvements, approval won’t lead to an increase in the property tax rate. It will remain at $2.75 per $1,000 of taxable value under the proposal. At least 60 percent of voters would need to approve the plan for passage.
“We’re looking at around $5.8 (million in expenses),” said Superintendent Jim Stanton. Demolition is expected to total “anywhere between $300,000 and $350,000” of that cost.
Stanton led a Courier reporter and photographer on a tour of the 1921 building recently, accompanied by two district facilities committee members.
“In my estimation, this is the only thing to do,” Bob Speed, one of those committee members, said of the plan to replace the building. The space with be air conditioned and, with the help of LED lighting, vastly improve the school’s energy efficiency.
Chad Wolfensperger, the other committee member, said improving the district’s facilities is important for students’ education. “We’ve got to give them the best learning opportunity we can,” he said.
Structural damage, initially caused by a tornado that went through Dunkerton in 2008, sealed the fate of the aging building.
In a junior high classroom on the school’s second floor, Stanton pointed to a patch on the wall. When it rains heavily, water pours out of the wall in that spot.
“We talked about fixing it,” he said of the structural problems that lead to such issues. But the state fire marshal told officials that any renovations would mean bringing the entire building up to code — a very costly process for such an old building.
So instead, the district patched things up. That included placing paver stones on portions of the roof to shore up damage, as recommended by consultants.
“That was the solution that they came up with at that time,” said Stanton. The fire marshal won’t allow even the building’s first floor to be occupied after 2019.
The facilities committee then began developing a phased plan to get students out of the problem building. Replacing it is the third phase.
Seven elementary classrooms would be on the first floor along with four on the second floor. The second floor also would include an art room plus family and consumer sciences and life skills classrooms with a shared space in between them. The reduced footprint of the new addition would provide more space for parking, as well.
A bond issue passed in 2009 allowed for completion of earlier phases, including construction of a new industrial technology classroom and media center plus the new junior/senior high school, finished in 2013.
As a result of the phased plan, Stanton said he doesn’t hear much surprise from residents over plans to replace the building’s oldest section.
“We knew this is where we were going to go,” he said. However, officials didn’t always know at what pace it would be accomplished.
“We paid off a 20-year bond in nine years,” said Stanton, noting the final payments will be made next year. And if the proposed plan passes, he said those bonds will be paid off in 13 years, beginning in 2020. “What should have been a 40-year process, we’re really going to get done in 22 years.”
As valuations increased across the district, officials kept the tax rate on the bonds at $2.75, growing the revenues that could be used to repay them.
“I have to give the school district and the board a lot of credit,” said Speed, for paying off the bonds early.