MARION SCHOOL BOARD LOOKING AT MAJOR BUILDING PROJECT
A special informational meeting hosted by the Marion School Board Monday night, Oct. 16 offered the public its first chance to see a proposed building project that officials say would not only improve the school’s aesthetics and efficiencies, but also carry the district well into the future.
As proposed, the master plan would be completed in three phases:
- Phases one and two would account for much of the project and would include a new front entrance with improved security, commons area, locker rooms, renovated classrooms, the removal of the oldest part of the building — the three-story structure built in 1914 — and a two-story addition that would include a library and kitchen. There would also be new administrative offices and classrooms. Cost: $11.5 million.
- Phase three would include the demolition of the current bus shed and ag/shop and replacing it with a new playground. A new bus shed would be built on a district-owned lot to the east and the ag shop would be added to the southeast side of the current building. Cost: $2.5 million.
Monday’s meeting also revealed that the first two phases of the project would be funded through a combination of:
- District cash on hand ($1 to $1.5 million);
- Capital outlay certificates ($3.64 to $4.65 million) that would be paid down through a budget item — something that is not referable to a vote, per state law — and would not raise taxes.
- And a general obligation bond ($5.9 to $6.9 million) funded through an increase in property taxes that would require 60% approval from district taxpayers. That would increase the tax levy for those living in the Marion School District anywhere from 1.24 to 1.44 per $1,000 valuation for residential. Those figures, depending on valuation, would be about 2.56 to 2.70 per acre of farm ground.
While much needs to happen between now and then, as presented Monday night, construction on the first two phases of the project could begin as early as the fall of 2024 with completion by the fall of 2025. As presented, the third phase would come at a later point.
Much of Monday’s meeting was facilitated by three representatives from CO-OP Architecture, a Sioux Falls-based firm hired by the Marion School Board in February to begin looking at a master plan for the district’s physical plant.
Principal architect Tom Hurlbert and architectural designer Becca Woytassek explained how CO-OP Architecture arrived at this point, while Tom Oster, an education/planner with the firm who also works with school districts in long-range planning, explained the financial path forward.
And Marion school officials expressed their interest in seeing the building project come to fruition.
“We have a fantastic school, we have a fantastic staff and I’m really excited about some of the directions we’re looking at going with our school district,” said Brian Brosnahan, who is in his first year as superintendent in Marion.
In his introductory remarks, Brosnahan explained a process that included individual meetings between CO-OP Architects and an administration team, CO-OP Architects and a team of teachers and staff, and finally CO-OP Architects and a team of community members.
“Once they started showing the consistencies, it’s really amazing how the community, the staff and the administration all see very similar things and very similar needs,” Brosnahan said, noting that Monday’s special meeting — and another that will follow on Monday, Nov. 6 — is a critical next step. “We’re going through this process because we want to be as transparent as possible with you as the community to identify the needs and the vision for our school and for our students.”
Hurlbert, the project’s principal architect, said at Monday’s meeting that, after visiting with the different groups and studying the layout of the building, it became obvious that the primary attention should be focused on the parts of the school that were built prior to the addition of 1994.
The Marion campus that exists today includes a series of construction projects that go back to 1914. Additions were built in 1939, 1958, 1975, 1983, 1994 — the biggest of them all that includes the main gym — and 2000.
The proposed plan would utilize the architecture of the 1939 addition and tie it into a new main entrance on the west side, with better connecting points — or “circulation” — to other areas throughout the building.
“You’ve got some interesting areas that don’t really connect very well,” Hurlbert said, noting that a lot of foot traffic goes through the old gym. “It could be a much clearer layout … and you still get a lot of value out of the structure you have here.”
Oster spoke Monday night primarily to the financial component — specifically the impact on taxpayers through the proposed general obligation bond — and said that Marion is not currently paying down on debt because it has none. He also noted that the Marion School District’s ag tax levy of 5.863 — the one that would be most significantly impacted by an increase — is lower than Marion’s three closest neighboring districts.
Canistota’s is 6.759.
Parker’s, which includes a newly passed bond, is 6.793.
And Freeman’s is 7.28.
“If Marion voters passed the proposed bond,” Oster said, “their taxes would still be very comparable to the neighboring districts … still be less than Freeman and just slightly above Canistota and Parker.”
During a time for questions toward the end of the 90-minute meeting, several of the 40-or-so attending shared concerns about the financial burden, particularly as it relates to the farming community, but Oster said the need for a building project is clear.
“I would highly encourage the school to offer tours so you can see what it’s like down in the basement of that 1914 building,” he said. “Look at the crumbling walls and go look at the urinals in some of the old bathrooms. It might be eye-opening.”
Enrollment came up on several occasions and Brosnahan noted that the 217 students enrolled at Marion this fall — which includes preschool — is a jump of more than a dozen, “and I think that number is going to grow.”
The superintendent said the district is projecting 12 to 15 kindergarten students in the fall of 2024 — which would be another boost based on the outgoing senior class.
A building project like the one being proposed, he suggested, would only help build momentum.
Matt Donlan, a member of the Marion School Board, said he believes the district has turned a corner.
“I’ve sat in this room and heard horror stories that in five years we’re going to be at an enrollment of 150 — 125,” he said at Monday’s meeting. “We weathered that storm. We’ve weathered the open enrollments. We’ve chased the consolidation carrot for way too long. We brought in a brand-new administration team and they’ve done a phenomenal job; the numbers show it.
“Now we have to take another step,” Donlan continued. “It’s time to do some of these things. It’s time to build this — finally.”
The earliest the school board could take action on a bond initiative is at their regular monthly meeting on Nov. 13 — one week after a second special meeting similar to the one of Monday, which will include updated numbers.
Should that happen, the district would then defer to the Hutchinson County auditor’s office for schedulig a special bond election, where 60% approval would be required for the building project to begin.