Tuesday night a crowd of about 100 people spent time in the Walton Rural Life Center gymnasium asking questions about a possible bond issue, and what that could mean for the future of the school building they were sitting in.
"We need to take closing Walton off the table, be done with it and get on with educating our children," one patron said during the meeting.
Her statement was met with applause.
Questions ranged from the needs at Newton High School to if a new elementary is constructed, and the Walton building shuttered, where Walton children would go to school if that happened.
The board of education will be asked to make some decisions at its next meeting, Feb. 13. They have several options in their hands, however, it is not known what option the board may pursue — or event when.
“One decision they will be asked to make is if there is sufficient need within the district to pursue a bond,” said Deb Hamm, superintendent of Newton USD 373. “… The next question is when you want to do that. Do you want to do it now, do you want to wait two years, five years or 10 years. “
The board could move forward with a bond issue as quickly as May 2017. It could choose to sit the idea on the shelf for longer.
Prior to moving forward with a bond, the board will have to make a decision on how large of a bond issue it will pursue. It is not clear when that decision will be made, and will hinge on other decisions that could be made Feb. 13.
"The only reason that they would have to make a decision on which option (to pursue) on Monday is if we want to pursue a bond in May," Hamm said.
After more than a year of strategic planning, two buildings were identified as building of need — Newton High School and Walton Rural Life Center.
"We identified the Walton Elementary school was a school that needed additional space, and that we needed a solution for the modular (classrooms). That was a temporary solution," Hamm said.
It is unclear in the documentation given to the board, and to those at the meeting Tuesday, where a new elementary would be located.
"Will that be told before we vote on a bond," one patron asked.
The answer is yes.
“It will have to be,” Hamm said.
The current Walton elementary was born out of a charter school grant — state and federal funding designated for schools to do something different. Teachers, building administrators and parents first moved forward with a charter grant about 10 years ago to create a school that focused on project based learning and focused on agriculture. The current charter grant is expiring. The school's charter grant is in the process of being written. If awarded, that grant would last five years.
The district has since undergone strategic and comprehensive planning. During that planning process, facilities were part of the discussion — and renovations for Newton High School came out of those community discussions as the most important building concern. Walton was identified as the second most important concern.
The board of education is currently looking at five different options for facilities moving forward — and the top focus of all of those options includes an estimated $37 million in renovations to Newton High School.
At this time no final decisions have been made. The board is expected to discuss a timeline for decision making, possibly even when the district would pursue a bond issue, at a Feb. 13 meeting at McKinley Administrative Center, 308 E. First.
Four of the five options include changes for Walton. One of the proposals includes building a new kindergarten through eighth grade school, and doing that in Walton. That option carries the highest price tag overall, $77 million when combined with other projects. The district would have to purchase land — the current Walton campus is 4.3 acres. For a K-8 facility, it is estimated the campus would need to be housed on 10 to 15 acres.
Two of the options in front of the board, with estimated costs of $60 million and $62 million include moving Walton to a different location. Dubbed “option 2,” the district would add on to Santa Fe 5/6 Center and Chisholm Middle School while constructing a new, $18 million kindergarten through fourth grade center that would house three sections at each grade level. Option 3 on the list includes a $20 million building for a new four-section kindergarten through fifth grade school and converting both Santa Fe and Chisholm to sixth through eighth grade schools. Other elementary schools in the district would create fifth grade classrooms as well.
Under option four, a $55 million option, $15.6 million would be spent to renovate and expand the current Walton school, keeping it as a kindergarten through fourth grade school. Option five does nothing at the elementary school level under this bond issue, instead spending $37 million to renovate Newton High School and revisiting elementary schools at a later time.