With less than two weeks to go before Election Day for a bond referendum in the Iowa Falls School District, activity is picking up – both in the information being provided by the district, and the work of members of a Vote Yes Committee.
The referendum, scheduled for Tuesday, March 2, asks for voters’ approval to increase property taxes in the district to pay for a $28.5 million project that would renovate and expand portions of Iowa Falls-Alden High School and build an adjoining new elementary school to replace two aging school buildings. The plans are the result of more than a year of discussions, study and consideration by engineers, the school board and a committee of volunteers.
One of those volunteers – Kaitlyn Hoversten – has taken a lead role on the Vote Yes Committee, devoting her time to placing signs in supporters’ yards and meeting with fellow committee members to plan to get information out to voters. Hoversten, the daughter of two retired teachers, mother of four Iowa Falls elementary students, and PTO representative, said she felt compelled to answer the call for volunteers when the district formed a Facilities Study Committee last spring.
“I thought this would be a good committee to serve on and learn more about the buildings. I like to be involved in the school district and this was just the next step for me,” she said. While she understood the district’s two elementary schools were getting old – both were built in the 1930s – she said it wasn’t until she got to the meetings that she came to the belief that building a new school would be the best choice.
“We spent many meetings kind of going in circles of different scenarios,” she said. “If we build new, where’s the best location? If we repair, how do we repair? Do we add on to an existing building? That took a lot of time and a lot of discussion.”
Matt McNeal, another member of the Vote Yes Committee who served on the Facilities Study Committee, said the group was asked to consider every possibility.
“We started off with nothing being off the table,” he said. “Should we look at building a new K-12 school, should it be in a different location, should we do a new high school, a new middle school. I thought that was really refreshing for the group to think about the whole district.”
McNeal, the father of a district student who said he has long advocated for improved local school facilities, thinks the best possible path forward is a new building.
The Iowa Falls School District's boundaries stretch across the central portion of Hardin County, up into the south central portion of Franklin County.
“We have nice facilities, but they’re out of date and out of touch with educational needs and how rapidly things are changing,” McNeal said. “It’s pretty evident when you go to a Gilbert or a Ballard or any district. You see new buildings going up and we’re always kind of doing the Band-Aid approach of adding on or remodeling. I wanted a long-term solution to all of our building needs, not just what can get us by for another five years or 10 years.”
Since the school board voted in January to put the referendum to a vote, there’s been no formation of a committee to formally oppose the issue. District residents have written letters to the editor both praising and questioning the plan, and local businessman Bob Welch placed an ad in the Times Citizen this week urging local residents to vote no. Those who’ve opposed or question the project wonder what will happen to the current elementary school buildings – Pineview and Rock Run – and how the district will handle issues like busing and traffic control at the high school. The tax increase, too, has been a sticking point for those who’ve voiced concern about the proposal.
Times Citizen Editor Sara Konrad Baranowski meets with Iowa Falls Superintendent Tony Neumann and Iowa Falls School Board members Todd Bicknes…
In response to those questions, Superintendent Tony Neumann built a website that provides answers. Information on the site includes tax rate comparisons, a report from engineers on the current state of the existing buildings, and the process that led to the referendum. It also includes possible scenarios of what could be done with the two elementary schools. (Those questions were also addressed in a video interview with the Times Citizen.) Neumann and the school board will host an informational meeting Monday evening, Feb. 22 to address those questions in person at the high school. It will begin at 6 p.m. in the auditorium.
Members of the Vote Yes Committee said they’re also engaging in conversation with people to answer questions and urge them to learn more about the project. Dave Jones, who owns Jones Appliance & TV, said he knows his home and his business taxes will increase if the bond is approved, but he’s still supporting it as a member of the volunteer facilities committee and now as a part of the Vote Yes Committee.
“I look at this as being an investment in our future,” said Jones, whose wife teaches at Rock Run Elementary. “One of the things we talked about at our last committee meeting was that we’re not just building this school for our children, but for our children's children. I think that’s a neat take. We’re building this for the next three to four generations of youth in this town. And for that I’m willing to pay a little more.”
But it’s more than even that, Jones said. It goes beyond education.
“I see the value in keeping our city vibrant,” Jones said. “If we don’t build new libraries, if we don’t build new swimming pools, if we don’t build new schools, we’re going to start dying. There’s no staying the same. The world doesn’t sit still for anyone. To me, this is a logical next step for our community.”