The Shareholders Group of the Decorah Schools told the Decorah Community School Board Wednesday night that they should move forward rapidly to improve school facilities, with the first priority being the high school. They have been thoroughly studying the issue for two years. Spokesperson Jeff Olinger wanted to highlight two issues. First, the group wanted to say they were sensitive to current economic issues, but also thought it prudent and responsible to begin action now. They perceived the need to be significant and immediate, and the current economic conditions would also present favorable bidding conditions for any projects. Secondly, they were thoroughly convinced of the needs, and that those from the group (and invited community members) who have toured the facilities were able to see beyond the surface appearance that many see when they simply enter the building for an event such as a concert or basketball game.
Superintendent Mike Haluska reviewed with the board a plan that would provide high school additions including expansion of shop and technical areas; a new gymnasium; altered classroom, cafeteria and administrative sites. The project would be phased and likely take three years, with the current gym area being a critical transition site that would house six temporary classrooms. Later that area would become a new cafeteria, as well as be able to provide a second level for storage space. Haluska and others made it clear that the 1950 vintage high school had not been neglected, but rather had worn out. He also added that perhaps at least 50 percent of the project cost, that would include new electrical, HVAC systems, roofing and windows, would be absolutely essential even without a comprehensive renovation – and that to address only part of the needs would be impractical. Initial study has indicated the new systems which would include geothermal energy could save from $50-100,000 per year.
The Shareholders expect to present a community based petition as early as July requesting a bond referendum for the project, even targeting the possibility of referendum as early as September. The bond could be in the $10 million range. Although the board members appeared to be fully supportive of the needs and initial plans, they also expressed caution regarding the need to fully educate the public regarding the needs, the array of funding streams, the current debt obligations, and how all those fit together as a package.