Construction on new tennis courts and a performing arts auditorium for the Mehlville School District could begin as soon as this summer.
The Board of Education gave its unanimous approval Thursday for Superintendent Eric Knost to move forward with a plan that would build eight new tennis courts at , add a 600-seat auditorium at the and complete repair projects around the district.
The projects can be funded under the district’s budget, but Knost suggested a future bond issue for another performing arts center in Oakville within the next five years.
“In one evening, I think we’ve laid out a plan to take this district in some areas that it's never been, to accomplish some things that are significant and needed changes both in how we think about budgeting for our district and in the results we will see,” Knost said. “To get a unified nod from a pretty diverse-thinking group. I think it proves there is common ground.”
Knost, who estimated construction on the tennis courts could begin as early as the spring, said the poor condition of the district’s courts was his number one complaint from parents. has tennis courts, while the Mehlville team practices at .
“We’ve needed tennis courts addressed and I can’t answer the question of why it hasn’t been over the years,” he said.
The project costs approximately $450,000 and two grants from the United States Tennis Association would pitch in $70,000.
Knost also proposed the addition of a 600-seat auditorium to the Witzel Building.
The building needs major repairs along with a new roof or it will become unusable; repurposing the building and adding an auditorium would provide the district with a need and make use of an already-existing facility, Knost said.
“With the low interests, with low construction rates, we felt it made sense to design a construction project that was needed, within our means and that’s not a brand new building somewhere,” he said. “Clearly we are in dire need of appropriate curricular spaces for our performing arts programs, which are some of the best in the state.”
Knost described the auditorium’s design as humble, but nice. The building would be outfitted with lights and quality seating, but would not be another Rickman Auditorium in the Fox School District, which seats about 1,500.
“We can’t send kids off to college equipped with the knowledge of the technical productions associated with performances— lighting and sound techs— because we don’t have the facilities to accurately train those kids,” Knost said.
The superintendent is also researching incorporating solar power into the renovation. A 25 kilowatt system would cost about $50,000 and grants are available from Ameren.
Both high schools would use the auditorium, but it would also be available for middle and elementary school activities.
Knost recognized the location will be inconvenient for the south side of the district, and said within the next five years, he’d like to see a bond issue passed to pay for a second auditorium.
“We’re talking a very small, very well-defined, very specific bond issue, so it’s for a specific amount of money, pays for the project, we pay it off, it goes away,” he said.
Knost also asked the board to allocate $500,000 to purchase laptops for freshman students in the fall. The district is , and if successful, Knost wants to expand it to all freshman Communication Arts students.
Knost presented a plan to fund these projects out of extra revenue from last year, spending down the district’s reserves and savings from refunding Certificates of Participation (COPs).
The district will save approximately $6 million from refunding COPs over the next decade. The savings will fund building the auditorium, with a $6 million cost cap.
“The board was adamant they wanted to consider that savings, they wanted to utilize that for facilities needs,” Knost said.
The tennis courts will come from district funds, as will the laptop program, Knost said.
The facilities department also plans to make repairs to several schools with a larger budget of district reserves and additional revenue from last year.
The district received extra money from the state in the 2010-2011 school year and after to its employees, $1.2 million remained.
Knost proposed putting $240,000 a year over the next five years into the facilities budget, reallocating the extra funds.
Knost also said he wanted to match that amount each year from the district’s reserves.
The district’s reserve balance is higher than it’s been in the last 10 years, according to Chief Financial Officer Noel Knobloch. Reserves are currently around 17 percent and the spend down would not put the district below 13 percent, a number Knost said he’d like to stay above. The state puts schools districts on a distressed list when their reserves sink below 3 percent.
The additional money will put the facilities budget between $800,000 and $900,000 a year, allowing the department to accomplish repairs throughout the district.
Knost said the bleachers and second-floor tile at , football stadium bathrooms at and small HVAC repairs could get done under the new facilities allocation.
Director of Facilities Steve Habeck and the superintendent will present the board a detailed five-year plan of repairs and improvements at its January meeting.
While Knost proposed several facilities improvements at Thursday’s meeting, he emphasized his priority of quality teachers in subpar classrooms over nice classrooms with an unqualified staff.
When entering into budget discussions, Knost reminded the board to think about funding the salary schedule for teachers, especially with annual teacher negotiations ahead in the spring.
The schedule sets the annual salary and raises for teachers in the district. Employees due to a budget shortfall.
“The sentiment from the board is that, with this economy, and people not getting big raises no matter what profession they’re in, that it’s not the time to consider that,” Knost said. “I get that, but I feel strongly, that we at least when we’re spending money on things like all these facility upgrades, I think it's somewhat of an obligation to make sure that we can at least fund the salary schedule that we publish.”