$48 million bond referendum for Clear Creek Amana school district passes

“We thought we were doing a very diligent job of educating the community about our needs"

Published: February 4 2014 | 8:52 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:11 am in

Voters in the Clear Creek Amana Community School District on Tuesday approved a $48 million bond referendum to build and improve facilities in order to accommodate the rising enrollment in one of the state’s fastest-growing school systems.

The ballot question needed a 60-percent supermajority to pass. The tally, which is unofficial until the Johnson County Auditor’s canvass at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, was 79 percent in support of the measure, with 21 percent against. Voters cast 1,237 ballots in the election.

“We thought we were doing a very diligent job of educating the community about our needs. It all came down to whether we did our jobs to show them and express to them what kind of needs we have,” said Steve Swenka, president of the Clear Creek Amana school board, who alongside other board members and district administrators watched the results Tuesday night at Throttle Down sports bar in Tiffin. “We were thinking positive that the bond would pass but you never know until the final vote comes in.”

Superintendent Tim Kuehl called the result “awesome” and hoped that the win was a result of effective messaging efforts.

“It’s a good feeling. I’m happy for the district,” said Kuehl, who was taken aback by the margin of victory. “(I’m) excited by that support from the community.”

The district’s current tax rate is $15.11 per $1,000 taxable valuation, but because of the district’s increasing valuation and an expiring portion of the debt service levy, administrators estimate that rate remain stable even with the new bonds.

In November 2013 the school board approved spending $1.38 million on land in Tiffin, which is the planned site of the district’s newest elementary school, contingent on voter approval of the bond issue. That was enough to motivate Steve Branin, who lives near Tiffin, to vote yes on Tuesday.

“I have a 2-year-old and she’s going to be starting school in a few years,” he said. “Part of that (money) is going to fund the school she’s going to.”

The new dollars will go toward constructing that 70,000-square-foot facility, as well as heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades at Amana Elementary School in Amana, a 60,000-square-foot addition to Clear Creek Amana Middle School in Tiffin and renovations and additions to Clear Creek Amana High School, also in Tiffin.

Construction on the new elementary school and middle-school addition is set to start this spring with the goal of having the work complete in time for the beginning of the 2015-16 school year. Building at the high school is scheduled to start in 2016 with the new areas ready to open by fall 2017.

This year, 1,798 kindergarten through 12th-grade students are enrolled in the Clear Creek Amana school district, and projections from University of Iowa Geography Department faculty members estimate that number will rise to over 3,300 by 2022-23.

“I figure this city is growing so fast, if we prolong (the bond issue) by 2 or 3 years, it’s going to cost $50 or $60 million instead of $48 million,” said Clayton Klein of Tiffin. He and his wife Kitty do not have any children in the district – their two sons graduated from the district in the ’70s – but they both voted in support of the referendum.

All five precincts went in support of the measure, with the widest margin coming in at North Bend Elementary School in North Liberty, where 93 percent of voters favored the bond referendum.

Dennis Langguth, a Tiffin resident who cast his ballot at North Bend, was one of the opposing 7 percent. He cited dissatisfaction with a past bond referendum and insufficient information as reasons for his vote.

“The way they spent the money was wrong,” said Langguth, who does not have children in the district. “I don’t want to give them the money without knowing more about how they’re going to spend it. … I don’t trust the board.”

While Swenka said he wanted to savor Tuesday night’s result, he also kept an eye on the future when talking about the upcoming building projects.

Swenka said the new elementary school is the project he is most excited about because the plot of land can accommodate two more buildings – perhaps another elementary school and an intermediate or middle school – if necessary. Constructing those facilities would require another bond referendum, Swenka said.

“With the ground that we’ve purchased, we’ve bought a big enough parcel that will allow opportunities for future growth,” he said. “The way the community is growing on the eastern side of our district, realistically we’re looking at having to do something in that five-to-seven-year time frame. … We realize that our work is not done.”

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