Many in the community have been talking about why a new Bellevue Elementary school is needed (or not needed). Meetings in regard to the elementary have been ongoing for many years, including during my time as Superintendent approximately four years ago. These meetings have allowed me to hear various perspectives about the facilities from several community members, along with multiple conversations in the community about facilities overall. These meetings and conversations often consisted of questions being asked with information being shared. Below are a few of the common inquiries and points of information which have been of interest:
1. Why is a new Bellevue Elementary School necessary?
• Simply put, this school is for our future leaders in our society... our youth. The youth in our community deserve a facility which allows them to continue to grow and develop into community, state, national, and world leaders. Our youth are the future. Bellevue has outstanding students who deserve facilities that allow for hands-on learning spaces in which to apply their learning. These collaborative areas will further assist in the development of problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication for our youth. It will enhance student’s ability to work with others in a learning environment dependent on teamwork, which will garner skills necessary for success beyond school.
• The current elementary building is the oldest operating school in the state of Iowa. It is time for students and the community to have a building which meets our current needs. Other schools in the area have replaced their old buildings and built new facilities to meet the needs for their students. While we want to preserve the historical significance of the current building for the community, it is time to move forward with a new learning center for our students.
• While the current Bellevue Elementary is a safe environment for youth, updated safety and security measures are vital as we continue to improve and enhance the safety for all students and staff.
• Learning exists far beyond the walls in a classroom, and hands-on learning space for experiments and studies outside of the classroom are important to enrich the traditional learning concepts. Additionally, green space for students to utilize for both recreational and educational experiences is important for student growth and development.
• A new building will allow for many energy efficiencies, therefore saving the district and taxpayers money. While the design is obviously not finalized, an increase in natural lighting (while still maintaining safety) will allow for less energy to be used for lighting and heating. Furthermore, a new heating system will be a substantial improvement for students, and an improvement in heating costs and repair needs. Public school districts are required to meet specific energy codes, and the eventual final design and structure will meet these requirements in a cost-effective manner both for the present time and into the future.
2. Why should I vote in regard to the Bellevue Elementary School?
• The Bellevue Community School District is a community school. It is your right and duty to vote as a community member. Supporting the education of students in the community has been documented throughout history. An historical perspective for the community when funding schools has been prevalent, including the following statements by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams:
• Benjamin Franklin stated, "An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest."
• John Adams added, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”
This process is an investment in the future. The future of our students. The future learning of our students. The future success of our students.
3. The school had plenty of room when I went to school, so why is more space needed? Is a new school really necessary? Why can’t the building be renovated and an addition be put on?
Over the last several years many areas in the current elementary building have been changed to meet the learning needs of students and safety requirements. As a result, the district has added the following classroom areas to meet the learning needs of students:
• Four preschool rooms based on the state requirement for 4-year old preschool, and a need for 3-year old preschool.
• A special education program based on specific student needs.
• An additional reading classroom based on the national focus on literacy, and the need to support our students in the critical component of reading for their academic success and success overall in life.
• An art room/program was added in order to assist our students in their learning beyond the traditional components in school. This program is vital for the overall development of students and allows students to develop their creativity skills, yet the room still lacks running water and several areas necessary for most art rooms.
• An Instructional Coaches room that has been adapted to allow for more hands-on learning and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)concepts. While this has been a great addition, space is inadequate for what students typically need to expand and enrich their learning.
Additionally, the district is no longer using the basement area nor the room located above the stage due to safety and accessibility issues. The music program is currently located on the stage with a curtain separating it from the gym area. These changes for the safety and learning of students impacted the quality learning spaces available in the building for students of all ages.
An estimate to renovate the current building and meet federal requirements is 7-8 million or more. This would coincide with a $4-5 million dollar cost for additional space to be added, leading to an overall conservative estimate of $11-13 million to remain in a building which is aging and will eventually need to be replaced.
There are currently three organizations interested in a restoration process for the building utilizing historic tax credits for funding. Additionally, the community would be involved in determining the future use of the building. Some ideas expressed for the building include: Daycare, senior housing, regular housing, recreation center, community meeting rooms, business/entrepreneurial space, and similar ideas.
The bottom line is the referendum is important for the entire community. As Tom Brokaw stated, "There is a place in America to take a stand: it is public education. It is the underpinning of our cultural and political system. It is the great common ground. Public education after all is the engine that moves us as a society toward a common destiny... It is in public education that the American dream begins to take shape."
Vote September 11.