Let’s see if third time is a charm

I find it interesting that the blueprint for the new proposed school, with a price tag of $14.5 million has never appeared in the paper. I also question why there was not one large community meeting giving everyone a chance to voice their concerns or ask questions. Instead, small tours of the elementary school were conducted.

Obviously, the purpose of those tours was to bring attention to the decrepitation and inadequacies as well as safety issues. Some are legitimate and some are not.

One letter in the paper’s opinion page pointed to the fact that the playground area is located next to a highway. That part is true, but the speed limit in that area is only 25 miles per hour, same as the schools in Dubuque that have recess areas next to busy streets.

Another safety issue was the possibility of an intruder entering the building. Why not just install an intercom system and locks on all the doors. All other existing schools had to do that.

One quote from an opinion page letter in last week’s paper focused on the concern that “students are playing just feet away from the busy downtown streets.” What downtown are they talking about? I hardly think “busy” is the right word to describe Bellevue, Iowa.

As for the condition of the elementary building, there is no question that it is in a serious state of disrepair. But how did that happen? Why were the needs of the building being so neglected? Why wasn’t this building constantly maintained? And why weren’t there immediate steps taken to address each problem as it arose – be it mechanical, electrical or otherwise? Clearly the cost of maintaining a building is cheaper than replacing one.

I find it hard to believe the statement that it would cost $18 million to renovate the already existing 42,380 square foot building and $14.5 million to build a brand new structure that is 56,000 square feet. I would like to see the architect’s breakdown of expenses on that. Makes me wonder how in-depth that study was.

If so many are determined to have a brand new school building, then they need to present one that is affordable. Keep in mind when you cast your vote that the additional money you will have to pay is over and above your current taxes, which as we were reminded of last September, continues to increase.

So far we have seen an outlandish floor plan with an equally outlandish price tag of $16 million, followed five months later with a new plan for $14.5 million. I wonder what a third proposal would come in at? You know what they say. “Third time is a charm.” I say we wait and see if that is true.

Karen Mueller

Bellevue

Hope to see you at the polls voting yes on April 2

I have a confession to make, I did not vote in the last bond referendum. Why? Because I was busy. I am a wife, a mother, I work, the list goes on as many of you know all too well. My husband voted while I cooked dinner, I figured this was good enough. A few months ago my neighbor drove by, she always waves enthusiastically like she is really happy to see me, sometimes she gives these short little beeps with her horn that match her peppy personality. She called and invited me to a meeting at the school… UGH. She is so nice that I could not say no. I learned four very important lessons that evening.

1. I am getting older and the “I walked uphill both ways” syndrome has started. Terms like “green space” makes my eyes roll in to the back of my head. I don’t think we ever stopped a game of kickball in the ‘80s and discussed how our educational experience would be enhanced if we had some green grass to play on. Temperature control?! We went to school in a sweat box, it builds character. Learning stairs, enough said. Alas I realized that this was the attitude that prevented me from being motivated to stop cooking and vote. I did not realize I needed an attitude adjustment.

2. Our community thrives in part because of the many citizens that take the time to volunteer. People that are just as busy if not busier than I am. Am I giving enough to my community that has given so much to me? No. My excuses of being busy are not going to suffice any longer. The hours that have been poured in to the bond referendum by volunteers, school board members and the faculty are tremendous. By not voting at all I essentially voted no, I am embarrassed to say the least.

3. The most important issue to me is the safety of our children. I truly did not realize the plethora of safety concerns. As the mother of 3 daughters I have spent  12 years attending school conferences in this building. I was not there to analyze fire escapes or how first responders would evacuate, nor did I ever wonder what the goopy stuff was covering the wood beams and ceiling (flame retardant FYI) The fact that there has not been a major incident thus far is amazing. Is my 67 dollars a month increase in taxes too much to pay for the safety and well being of these students? No.

4. Both BHS and MHS have been doing an amazing job of instilling a sense of community and civic duty in our youth. There are high school students from both schools that have impressed me greatly with their integrity and service.

Kyle Guenther is an example of what a community would hope our children are learning. He is humble, well spoken, and a leader. He is calling for action, reminding me that just because it was good enough for me does not mean that is good enough now. I hear you and if you ever run for public office you have my vote.

This letter is me waving enthusiastically at you, members of this community. If you did not have the chance to attend a meeting please know that the group of citizens leading this effort have done their homework. The amount of research, consulting, and careful cost consideration may go unnoticed if the focus is on terms like “green space” or the perceived extravagance of a conceptual drawing.

I am grateful for the lessons I have learned in this process and I hope to see you at the voting booth April 2.

Johannah Yeager

38836 320th Street

Bellevue Iowa

Is it worth losing our downtown for a new $14.5 million elementary school?

A letter was printed in the March 14 editorial page of the Herald-Leader on why it was an obvious choice to vote yes for the April 2 referendum. It stated we would need at least 8 rooms in the new school to support these programs.

I would like to address this issue with facts and figures from the Bellevue Community School District home page.

Under the new proposal, general classrooms will be increased from 12,752 square feet to 16,709 square feet for a total of 3,957 more square feet; student support from 2,016 to 2,593 or 487 more square feet; food service from 2,247 to 3,600 for 1,353 more square feet; and exploratory rooms from 1,947 to 4,983 or 3026 more square feet. This is a total of 8,833 square feet.

Room specifics increased by 3 rooms for a whopping cost of $2,944.33 per room while still leaving Bellevue elementary at least 5 rooms short. At the proposed bond referendum cost, the taxpayers are being charged $258.93 per square foot to build the new building.

So I asked myself – is it really worth it – and how much are pre-stressed concrete slabs to put up the outer shell of a 56,000 square-foot building?

One site I located provided costs of $43 per linear foot. If my math is correct, the cost of the outer shell should be around $40,850. This would be a building with two walls at 225 feet by two walls at 250 feet. Correct me if I am wrong, but that means the inside of the building and amenities will cost over $14 million. This is a lot of money for a small increase in the number of rooms.

Another issue I would like to address is the voting. The citizens of Bellevue voted the referendum down 7 months ago. Are we going to continue to have a bond referendum every 6 to 9 months until it passes? If it passes, how long do we have before you come up with the excuse of not enough room and ask for an expansion?

Now I know some folks have money trees in their back yard, but people on a fixed income must count pennies in today’s marketplace. Any change in expenses to a small business or farm require their product price to increase. This causes taxpayers to absorb the increases as they shop, reducing purchases of anything over and above the absolute necessities. This could mean the difference commercial and ag businesses being able to operate profitably.

Is it worth losing our downtown to have a new school? I do not believe it will take 18 million dollars to make the current school usable.

Dennis Tompkins

Bellevue

Vote yes for the future

My husband, Curt Zeimet and myself,  have already voted “yes” to approve the construction of a new Bellevue Elementary Public School.

Iowa became a State in 1846. Bellevue was designated the County Seat and the Jackson County Courthouse in Bellevue, was built in 1848. That was two years after Iowa became a state! The Designation of County Seat went back and forth from Bellevue to Andrew until Maquoketa was finally decided to be the locale for the County Seat.

The Jackson County Courthouse in Bellevue was converted for use as a school in 1861.  

Just because a school building has been used for 158 years as a school does not mean that a new school needs to be built and I must commend the past superintendents, principals, school boards, staff and parents for maintaining the building the best they could for 158 years. In fact, I was President of the PTA and spearheaded, with many dedicated committee members, the renovation of the playground, in 2000. (Probably time for an upgrade to the playground!)  The School Board at the time, voted to contribute money for the renovation, but the bulk of the funds were raised by donations from Community members and organizations.  So, no new taxes had to be collected to pay for the playground.  Who donated??  Go look…bricks are laid in the asphalt in front of the original entrance that tell the story. Did the people who are currently so against a new school donate to the playground project to keep their taxes down or to keep a historical building functioning as a school?  I’m not sure they did.

You may say…”that is just a playground” not a whole school!  Actually, a playground is considered a part of the learning environment for students..a very important part.  Studies continually show the need for children to just play as part of their learning process.  It would be wonderful to actually have green grass for them to play on…similar to a park.

The School Board could renovate the existing building…maybe ask the City to sell a street, altho the streets surrounding the school are pretty important streets in Bellevue. I am and was on the Bellevue Board of Adjustments when the Council voted to approve selling a City street for a school construction project. The Board of Adjustments was also involved, in that we approved a variance to allow some of the construction to occur.  But, selling a street is a City Council decision and a decision that is not taken lightly…But, back to renovation…yes, that could be done, but guess what?  It will remain a very old building and the additions will continue to age if the current school is renovated…continual renovations and maintenance will need to occur over the years Bellevue will have a Public School.  I wonder how much and how many times, the taxes would need to be raised to continually renovate and maintain the what.. a 171 year old building….. as a school?  I would think, all-in-all, a lot more than what the current asking will be when the vote passes!  Just like living in an old house…there will always be something that will need to be done.

Public school is a right, not a privilege.  The children of the Bellevue School District have the right to a new, safe, up-to-date school building. It is time for our historical  building to become something else besides a school to continue its long history in our community. It is time for the voters to look ahead as the citizens did in 1861 and vote in favor of a new elementary school building. For children now and for the children to come. For our Community now and for Bellevue in the future.

Thank you,

Lucy Zeimet

Bellevue

How do I tax thee?

Here we go again. The powers to be that run the Bellevue School District are trying to once again stick their hands deep into the pockets of families that live in the Bellevue school district with their new and “revised” proposal for a new $14,500,000, (That’s right folks, $14.5 million dollars) grammar school referendum vote that is scheduled to take place this coming April 2nd. After receiving a resounding no vote from both the rural and in town population that saw this referendum for what it was, a "Red Herring" and huge burden on the taxpayers for many years to come. But wait, that resounding no vote was not enough to satisfy those powers to be. Quickly, without hesitation, planning was happening to put the measure up for another vote as soon as possible with the hopes that the slightly revised cost estimates they are giving now will get it through the second time. But there is a hidden agenda to that line of thinking. What is it you wonder?, let me tell you.

You see folks, by quickly getting the referendum up for a vote again, hopes are that the fine citizens of the Bellevue school district will momentarily forget about the other two big burdening taxes that lay in wait in upcoming referendums to be announced. I’m referring to the new jail tax to be voted on in Jackson County, (which will definitely affect those in the Bellevue school district ), and also the Jackson County Hospital that will also greatly effect local taxpayers. Regarding both these still to be voted on projects, once again it’s the taxpayer that will suffer, both those working people, and even harder on those folks living on a fixed income that are constantly seeing their day to day costs rise. Keep in mind, Bellevue and the surrounding area within the Bellevue school district have many of these fixed income folks that will be greatly effected by these taxes. Lastly, in this group, let me mention the hard working farmers. Right now the farm community is also having a tough time surviving. Low prices, high fuel prices, bad crops due to weather, etc. The last thing they need is another tax.  

Here are a few facts that you as voters need to consider that will without a doubt directly affect you and your family dramatically. On average, almost 54% of your current homeowners property tax bill goes to Bellevue Schools. The real interesting fact though is that since just last year, that percentage has risen 13%. Now that’s 13% in just the last property tax cycle. Think about that for a moment. With a new $14,500,000, (yes, that’s Million) dollar school being proposed, it’s not very hard to see that this taxable rate will without a doubt skyrocket. Anyone that says it will not is blowing smoke to hide the real fact. Just believe us they tell you.

A perfect example of what is very likely to occur in the future is the proposed Jackson County Hospital I mentioned earlier. After announcing that the hospital would cost a set amount, it was very recently found that it would actually come in at well over the original amount stated. In fact, $880,000 dollars over projected cost. If you really think that that cannot happen in Bellevue regarding projected costs for the new school building you may want to seriously think again. The odds are greatly in favor that costs will increase well over the proposed dollar numbers we the taxpayers are being told. Fact is, the school district cannot give you a set price as to actual, final costs to you the taxpayer.

Keep in mind, the powers to be have already spent a ridiculous amount of money on the land where the proposed building would be located. Twenty some acres at the price of roughly $35,000 an acre. What a bargain, NOT. But again, what the heck, don’t worry, the taxpayers can handle it.

Lastly, I very recently was listening to KMAQ Radio in Maquoketa and they were interviewing a person of authority from the Bellevue school district that stated the following. Quote: “When the new school is built, the old school building that we are in now would make a wonderful place for other activities to occur. That person mentioned perhaps a Daycare facility. A Daycare Facility? Wait, please clarify. It’s been constantly stated how bad the current school building is but it would make a great Daycare? If it’s good for that, why is it not good enough to do the necessary rehab work, at a lot less than the projected dollar amount currently being proposed, (which we all know will go much higher), and turn it into a quality facility that students can enjoy for years to come. Seems like a foolish statement to me that it’s no good now, but would make a great daycare. Really?  

In the Bellevue Herald Leader on March 20, 2019, Tom Meyer, Bellevue Community Schools Superintendent stated the following: Quote: “Multiple architectural groups specializing in historical renovations have shown a significant interest in the building. Renovations would be required to reflect community interests and needs” end quote.

OK then, you claim the community needs a better school?, there it is, renovate!  

In closing, the taxpayers in the Bellevue school district that are already paying a very high amount of their income via taxes, (remember almost 54 percent), to support the school district will be stretched even thinner of their livelihood if this proposed $14,500,000 referendum is approved. Remodel the current facility, save taxpayers their hard earned money.

It’s time for the rural farm community and those in town to strongly unite as one and send a very resounding message to the powers to be that are once again trying to shove this referendum through.

Remember folks, It’s not the building that the kids learn in, it’s the people inside. Vote a resounding no on the current upcoming Bellevue grammar school referendum on April 2.

Mike Cyze

Bellevue, Iowa

Time is now to vote yes

I have three children that currently attend Bellevue Elementary. I did not grow up in this area, but over the past eight years, I have gone to the school numerous times for conferences, plays, practices, etc.  

During these visits, I have now realized that I was always visiting the nicest areas of the school  - the newer parts of the building.  I was in favor of the school before because I could see the growing class sizes, how old the building was, etc., but it wasn’t until taking a recent tour and my oldest son having a classroom in the older part of the building this year that I realized that this new school isn’t just a wish list item for the town, it is an absolute necessity for our children, the staff, and community.  

To be honest, I was actually quite appalled to see the condition of some areas of the school that my children have been attending. The safety issues (lack of good fire escape routes for one) and accessibility for the entire building (especially for the special needs classroom) is just not acceptable.  The moldy/musty smell throughout much of the building (which I’m told gets worse certain times of year because of the bat feces) cannot be good for our children’s health nor enjoyable to endure on a daily basis.  

There are several parts of the building that are now used for storage because they were deemed unsafe for use beyond that, so the size of the usable space is shrinking while the number of classes and students keep increasing.  The teaching and maintenance staff has done an amazing job of stretching this current building past what should have been its expiration date, but it’s time to look to the future.

 The new proposal for $14.5 million has cut out any space that was not absolutely necessary (such as some extra classroom spaces, narrowing hallways) leaving a fairly bare bones, no frill plan in order to accommodate the demand to get the cost down as low as possible.  

There is nothing left to cut; the cost will only go up from here as supply and labor costs increase over time.  Bringing the current building up to code would cost even more and still leave many boxes left unchecked.  

The time to vote yes is now.  Yes for a school that meets the needs of our children and staff, for a school that we can ensure our children are safe in, and for a school that our community can be proud of!

Jessica Portz

Bellevue

Current campus is worth the investment

I’d like to start off by apologizing to all those involved with guiding the tours of the grade school. Due to my sizable character flaws, I am certain that there were multiple times when I came across as a word the paper can’t print. However, I feel it’s important to address why I felt compelled to attend so many of the tours.

Perhaps it’s another character flaw, or a side effect of my job inspecting damaged buildings, but I can never accept anything I’m told without verifying it for myself. If someone told me the sky was blue, I’d instinctively look up to make sure it still was. So after my first tour I tried to verify the information presented, only to find out it was incorrect. So, I attended the next tour, but this time received different answers to the same questions. Upon trying to verify these, I find that these too are incorrect. And so it continued.

Although the misinformation was largely related to what I consider minor issues of poor organization and deferred maintenance, it highlights concerns greater than just presenting misinformation to the public. It shows that the decision to build a new school is not based on facts, but on false assumptions. It shows that those in charge have not done their due diligence prior to making such an impactful decision. It shows that they have not looked into solutions to many of the issues presented, but rather have let them remain as excuses to justify their spurious decision.

The education of our children is just part of the issue at hand. The historic nature of our school means that the entire community has developed around that anchor. The idea to relocate the school is being done with little regard for sound community development principles. The inherent value of the site as a school is evident in the walkability for students, not only to attend classes, but after school programs, church events, and library programs. We need to recognize the school as an integral and vital community asset.

I do agree that the grade school is short of classrooms, and that our children deserve an overdue upgrade. However, the proposed solution is the most reckless and wasteful I can imagine. Building a preschool would solve the space problem without destroying our school, community, and heritage. If the school board has come to the conclusion that we need to spend X-million dollars to provide our children with a proper education, then give us a clear choice between what that money would accomplish at a new building west of town vs. what can be achieved by investing that same money in the current location.

If any of my concerns also resonate with you, I encourage you to join me in voting NO on April 2nd.

Jacob Ohlert

505 Court Street, Bellevue

April 2nd Bellevue Grade School Referendum

I took the tour of Bellevue Elementary Grade School because I wanted to see for myself and draw my own conclusion on which way to vote.   In my mind, I saw a building that is beyond repair for a school and would not provide the necessary space we need.   To me, it makes much more sense to do it right and to just build new.  The cost to repair the old school is estimated to be as high as 18 million, which is more than building new!   We all know that the repairs would still not give us everything we need and I hate to see them even try to repair the old school.   At 14.5 million, we can do it right.  To me, this was an easy decision once I looked at the facts and all the pros and cons.   

Honestly, no one likes to pay more taxes but I would much rather pay for the right solution for our children and our community.  The cost is less to do it right and build new and much less disruptive to our children.   Would you want to put your tax dollars into a new school or put your tax dollars into extensive repairs and add-ons that could cost more and give us less?   

No matter where the school is located, some children in town will need to be bused, so let’s bus them to a new school with proper security, safe drop off and pick up areas, efficient layout, working cafeteria, green space, and the necessary areas for all the programs the school now offers.

I cannot think of anything more important on any upcoming ballet than a safe and proper learning environment for our children.  Please get out and VOTE YES!  We want to be proud of our schools, our churches, our people, and our town!  

Vickie LaGrotta

From An "Outside" Perspective

I am writing this letter with hope that Bellevue voted yes to invest in our most important asset, our youth. If the contrary has come to pass I hope to shed some perspective on the issue. To clarify my bias, I am an “outside” perspective moving here from Washington State 6 years ago. I have children who attend the public school and can say I was pleasantly surprised by the exemplary quality of teaching and education presented by our local public school; teachers who truly care and about their pupils and character of our future community, a curriculum and classroom atmosphere inclusive of all, including those with special learning needs. I truly believe this is crucial for children to learn empathy and social skills and is an asset lost in many school districts. Our public school is a gem housed in a less than desirable rough setting. I may not have been sold on living in Iowa upon initially moving here in the middle of winter, but when I realized what precious diamond the school and community is for rearing children… I was sold.

There is no doubt if our family stayed in the suburbs south of Seattle, our kids would be enrolled in a private school, most likely the same one I attended. I was very pleased with the private education my parents invested in for me, but  was absolutely delighted I could send my kids to public school with many of the assets often only available to those willing to pay for a private education. I feel blessed to be raised by parents who instilled the value of a strong school system as infrastructure for a robust community and local businesses and always voted in favor of school district levies despite paying tuition for a parochial school. To liken the construction and upkeep of Marquette to a basic public service like a public school is to compare fire to water. If families choose to allocate private funds to construct or maintain a private school it is a luxury and a choice versus a necessity of an adequate building to house a basic public service.  A parochial and preparatory school is a good fit and a fabulous education for many children, a public school, however, must service the needs of a community at large and all children with a variety of needs.

 As an outsider it has been truly eye opening and disappointing to see the polarization of a small close knit town over what should be a simple question… does our current  facility embody our value of our future citizens? As you drive down State Street and see the decaying soffits and uneven play surface does that reflect the importance of our youth? When you step inside and see there is not enough space for each child to have a locker (some children in my son’s class have to hang their belongings on a hook in the hallway due to lack of actual space for any more lockers) or work in the hallway (safety issue that new locks and an intercom will never fix) due to lack of space in classrooms, is that what we think of our future citizens of Bellevue? Is it acceptable that the school has resources to add teachers but no classroom space to house them? In my son’s case, two classes of 25 kindergarteners share two toilets for 50 kids! I can only speak to inadequacies I have observed. I was unable to attend the public small group tours offered, but have heard of smells from upper floor classrooms from bat issues and hope we can pull together as a community before any more of our young citizens are subjected to something like that.

I fully understand cost of living is a challenge and cost of operating a business is expensive but we need to keep in perspective we are in one of the lowest taxed counties in Iowa and the nation for that matter. Can we really afford to NOT invest in one of the pillars that depict our community and one of the most important factors in drawing residents and population? There is nowhere to expand the current school to even meet the present population much less populations of the future. Continued no votes simply mean we scale back already lean measures to address needs and will need expansions in the far too near future. The school district we moved from just passed a school levy for four hundred plus million dollars (1.5 times our tax increase per thousand dollars of property value where average home value is $300,000) to address the overcrowding and aging of buildings and those monies build only one new building! We are blessed to be able invest in the future and infrastructure of Bellevue for what is, in all actuality, a very reasonable price tag. Let’s turn an aging eyesore of an antiquated public school into something that is useful and pleasing as a community center and give our children and teachers a building fitting of the asset they are, one that addresses the safety and learning needs of children in this decade.

Rachel Rowan

104 South 5th Street

Bellevue