CEDAR FALLS — The Board of Education on Monday approved buying 50 acres off West 27th Street from the University of Northern Iowa.
The $1.24 million purchase was approved 6-0 with board member Jeff Hassman abstaining to avoid a conflict of interest. He explained farmland near that area has been in his family for years.
Cedar Falls Community Schools exercised an option to buy the land that was set to expire at the end of March. Officials are eyeing the site for a potential new high school to replace the current building at 1015 Division St.
“The high school is going to be over capacity by the 2019-2020 school year,” said Superintendent Andy Pattee. “Our projections are to grow over a thousand students in the next 10 years (district wide).”
Payment using 1 percent sales tax funds will be spread out over several years. The district will pay $20,000 March 31 and $620,000 at closing. Two more payments of $310,000 will be made on March 31 of 2018 and 2019.
Objections to the purchase were raised by two district residents during the meeting’s public comment period.
Larry Wyckoff said Cedar Falls Schools’ “don’t need” and “can’t afford” to buy the land adjacent to UNI. “Bottom line, it’s an increasing tax and spend,” he said. “This has got to stop; people tell me we have got to stop this kind of activity.”
A purchase agreement was developed more than two years ago with UNI for the property just west of Hudson Road. But a September 2014 referendum to build a new school did not pass. Officials plan to seek voter approval again within 10 to 16 months for a high school on the site, which has an estimated cost of $80 million to $85 million.
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Cathy Pingel, the other person who objected, said the funds to buy the land should be used for paying off current debts. “My feeling is we’re not an investment company and this would not be a good investment,” she said.
Former school board member Duane Hamilton, who also spoke, said buying the land was about vision. He compared it to the district’s joint purchase of 40 acres with the city of Cedar Falls years ago for the land where a new elementary school and a park will soon be developed.
“I would like to commend the Cedar Falls School Board for making tough decisions,” said Hamilton. “Our schools and our students are our future.”
In other business, the board:
Authorized issuing $32 million in general obligation bonds, which finalizes action to sell them taken earlier this month. The bonds, to be repaid through a property tax increase, will be used for construction of Bess Streeter Aldrich Elementary School plus upgrades and expansion at Orchard Hill and North Cedar elementary schools. The board approved the tax exemption and continuing disclosure certificates as well as appointed Bankers Trust Co. of Des Moines as the paying agent, bond registrar and transfer agent.
Approved plans and specifications for an $8.47 million remodeling project at North Cedar Elementary School, including 24,032 square feet of new additions and 11,750 square feet of classroom upgrades. The improvements will not increase North Cedar’s 350-student capacity but are focused on creating facilities that are equitable to other district elementary schools. Among the features of the project are collaborative areas, hands-on learning spaces, a separate cafeteria and gym, and a safe room plus a larger media center and office. The board also approved seeking bids on the project and set a public hearing for 7 p.m. March 27. Bids are expected to be opened April 4 with the construction completed in December 2019.
Approved a 2017-18 contract with the Chauffers, Teamsters and Helpers Local 238 union, which represents 47 district employees in numerous positions such as custodian, laundry worker, plumber and electrician. For 2017-18, wages will increase 35 cents per hour for current employees and starting base rates will rise by 25 cents for new hires. Current base rates range from $13.50 to $18.53 per hour. Adrian Talbot, director of human resources, said the total package increase is 2.19 percent. That percentage doesn’t account for any insurance premium increases, which are no longer subject to bargaining and haven’t yet been finalized.