To build or not to build?

That is the question Northwest Public Schools voters will decide as they vote whether or not to approve a proposed $11.5 million bond to construct a new freestanding middle school.

The estimated cost of the middle school is $11.47 million. Of this amount, $1.02 million will be for site and paving, $4.02 million for mechanical/electrical, $4.01 million for the envelope/interior (building walls, roof, etc.), $577,800 for furniture and equipment, and $1.84 million for contingency and fees.

The building would be a freestanding structure at the existing Northwest High School site. The proposed 59,512 square-foot facility would include 12 classrooms, three science classrooms, a flex classroom, gym and locker rooms, a media center and a cafeteria. It would also include entities such as administrative and nurses offices, driveways, parking, and design and management fees.

According to a sheet provided by Northwest, the district’s current levy is about 89 cents per $100 valuation. This levy includes the Qualified Capital Purpose Undertaking (QCPUF) Bonds at 2.4 cents per $100 valuation and the bond fund at 2.9 cents per $100 valuation. The former will be paid off in December, while the latter will be gone within the next two years.

The new bond of $11.5 million will require a bond levy of approximately 8 cents per $100 valuation. With the two bond payments being paid off within the next two years, Northwest Superintendent Matt Fisher said taxpayers will see a net tax levy increase of approximately 2.6 cents over what they are currently being assessed. Northwest’s current levy is 88.6 cents per $100 valuation.

According to Northwest Middle School Now, a website devoted to providing information on the proposed middle school, if the bond is approved, the net levy increase will be $26 a year for a homeowner with a home valued at $100,000. For an ag land owner, the net levy increase would be $220 a year on an irrigated quarter of crop land, $115 a year on a dryland quarter and $72 a year on a grassland quarter.

These values were based on the averaged assessed value per acre in Hall County. The net levy increase could vary for Northwest taxpayers living in Howard or Merrick counties.

According to a sheet provided by Northwest, if the middle school bond issue is approved, the levy will increase 7.53 cents per $100 valuation in the 2019-20 fiscal year if buildings are 100 percent full, and 5.22 cents per $100 valuation in the 2019-20 fiscal if buildings are 90 percent full.

The levy would then decrease 3.97 cents from the current levy per $100 valuation in fiscal 2022-23 at 100 percent capacity, and 0.44 cents per $100 valuation in fiscal 2022-23 at 90 percent capacity. The levy would then continue to decrease each year after.

Why a new middle school?

According to Superintendent Matt Fisher, Northwest is currently underserving the needs of its middle school students. He said the structure the district is in now “does not do a good job of serving the needs of our middle school students.” Northwest currently offers only band, choir and technology elective classes — fewer than what smaller schools in the area offer. If the bond issue is approved by voters, the middle school would offer elective classes including financial literacy, agriculture, family and consumer science, industrial technology and orchestra.

At a press day event on Oct. 8, Cedar Hollow eighth-grader Brady Knuth talked about the need for more elective classes at the middle school level.

“Right now, all we have (for elective classes) is band,” Knuth said. “So it is either you are in band, or you aren’t. That is the only extracurricular class that we have other than sports. I would like to have a shop class and stuff to prepare us for high school and college.”

Jamie Mues-Jankovitz said she has two children — a sophomore and a senior — at Northwest High School. She said she loved the education and support her children received at Cedar Hollow School, but they could have had more.

“We have every caliber of kids at the middle school level with all different types of needs,” Mues-Jankovitz said. “They need the social progression, they need the opportunities to figure out what their employment life and their social life are going to be. We need to make sure we provide everything we know is available. I think anything less is letting students down.”

Annette Schimmer, who has a third-grader and a sixth-grader who attend school in the district, said she realized the need for a middle school when her oldest daughter was not able to take an art class. She said Northwest currently offers “just the core basics” and students do not get the chance to utilize their inspiration at school.

“The reason I am for this (bond issue) is because I see it outside the box,” Schimmer said. “If we keep looking inside the box, we are going to go nowhere. We are going to keep being back 20 years and we aren’t that. Education isn’t going to go backwards, it is going to go forward. We have to keep up with the times. If we don’t change, and are willing to change, people are going to realize that. They’ll ask why they should send their kids to Northwest.”

Students: We need more

Cedar Hollow eighth-grader Molly Price said with the current school setup, she and her classmates are with the same people from kindergarten through the eighth grade. With a new middle school structure, she said, they will be able to expand their friends group and increase their social interactions.

Cedar Hollow eighth-grader Jackson Clausen agreed.

“Right now, it is just us,” he said. “When we go to high school, we are going to have all the other district middle school people that we don’t know, plus Westridge kids. I feel it will be one-fifth of us here at Cedar Hollow who are at the high school.”

Teachers, principals say something needs done

One-R Principal Steve Retzlaff said Northwest is in the business of providing students a quality education. Like a business, he said, the district needs to grow and provide more opportunities to best serve the needs of its students.

“The new middle school will create more opportunities for our kids, whether it be in art, music or science,” Retzlaff said. “Career exploration is one thing we are trying to promote. As kids get to high school, they start having those opportunities. At the high school, they have breakouts of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) stuff. I think letting students have those opportunities by quarter is important. Shop and ag classes are important, too.”

Bevin Drew, a middle school language arts and reading teacher at St. Libory school, said she feels students are missing out on opportunities to feel successful under Northwest’s current structure. She said if the proposed middle school structure was built, students would be able to take more elective classes and achieve a sense of accomplishment.

Drew said teachers better collaborating with each other will help them give students a better educational experience.

“We have common plan time with the middle school teachers who do the same thing in other buildings two times a month,” she said. “But 45 minutes to an hour of common plan time to show what we are doing and need to do next is tough. For a middle school, I can go across the hall, see what they did in this and what worked well. It is a lot easier to share resources and reflect on what did and did not work immediately, rather than two weeks later.”

Angela Blank, a 6-8 math teacher at Cedar Hollow, said she will appreciate being able to teach alongside other math teachers at the new middle school. Currently, Blank is the only math teacher at Cedar Hollow.

“Email works well, but I do not always have the time to email,” she said. “If they were just across the hall, I could pop in and ask how they did this, or what strategies seem to work.”

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