About 50 community members packed into the 64-year-old gymnasium at Clinton Elementary School on Wednesday night to consider the district’s groundwork on a potentially sweeping referendum in November.
Clinton Community School District Administrator Jim Brewer said the district is losing students, and the current facilities at the elementary and middle schools are dilapidated.
“We’ve got a declining population, we’ve got a lack of housing,” Brewer said. “Our population study shows we’re going to continue to decline. I’m not lying when I say we need kids.”
As a solution to both problems, board members and school officials proposed a $39.9 million referendum. That number is not final but merely a starting point, Brewer said.
Among other changes, the initial proposal would include tearing down the elementary and middle schools, putting up a new building for 4K through sixth grade on the same land as the high school, and moving seventh- and eighth-graders to the high school building.
“The board has funneled down all the different options,” Brewer said. “This is what we think is the best solution for us long term. What do you think? That’s where we’re at today.”
For the past decade, the district has been losing about 1.2 percent of its students each year, Brewer said. That has left significant unused space in the district’s middle and high schools.
In a study conducted by Eppstein Uhen Architects last year, the firm found that only 60.4 percent of the high school is currently being utilized throughout the day. The middle school hovers around 58 percent occupancy.
Senior project manager Robert Vajgrt said each building would ideally use around 80 percent of their space on a given day.
Also included in the study was a facilities conditions assessment that found the district’s oldest buildings—the 60-year-old elementary and middle schools—have significant problems, including deterioration, roof failures and mechanical systems failures.
Brewer also said the two schools lack adequate security and that if a shooter were to enter them, “we may not catch them. Our cameras are that old.”
Brewer said Wednesday’s gathering was to find out whether the community would back a referendum.
After the district’s presentation, the crowd split into six groups with a school board member leading discussion on proposals.
Danielle Christensen, who teaches math intervention and eighth-grade German, said her table immediately agreed the referendum is necessary.
“It’s not really an option,” Christensen said. “We did have some concern with seventh- and eighth-graders being in with nine through 12. We all realize that this is very conceptual.”
Christensen also asked how much it would cost the district to make its 17-year-old high school “future ready” on a November referendum.
Brewer said “future ready” means overhauling the high school’s technology education and STEM programs and its digital systems. Such work could cost an additional $20 million, he said.
John Gracyalny has three children in the Clinton Community School District, and he said his group sought to get the referendum right “the first time.”
“Hopefully by doing this, we can get families to move to the community,” he said.
After each group stated its case, school board member Sheri Mullooly summarized the findings to the crowd.
She said most attendees thought a new building was a popular idea, but some had concerns about 4-year-olds walking in the same campus where high school students are driving. She said most groups wanted to add an auditorium to the district’s expansion and wanted to ensure the district has room to grow in the future.
Brewer said surveys will soon be sent to each household in the district. The district will try to finalize its plans by July if it decides to seek a referendum in November.
“We’d be setting up the future,” Brewer said. “I’m a Clintonite. I live in town. My taxes would by impacted just like everybody else’s. I think this is the best option for us.”