El Dorado asks voters for new schools

El Dorado school district voters will choose Nov. 2 whether to fund a $36.1 million initiative that would pay for construction of two new schools.

The district would use the funds to build a new 500-student-capacity middle school and 360-student-capacity elementary school, in response to findings from a district facilities task force.

District officials estimate that for every $100,000 of property value, taxpayers would spend another $103.08 a year for 26 years if the bond referendum passed.

Since it would cost an estimated $15.5 million to renovate El Dorado Middle School, which would cause a reduction in classroom space, the task force recommended building a new middle school.

The task force found that structural limitations at the middle school wouldn't allow for the desired classroom space needed if the school were renovated without an addition.

School board chairman Leon Leachman said that renovations also wouldn't free more land to alleviate parking and traffic concerns at the site.

The new elementary school would combine operations from Skelly and Washington elementary schools, while the middle school would take the place of El Dorado Middle School.

The middle school would be on a 40-acre site on North Topeka Street, previously owned by El Paso Merchant Energy. The company would sell the property to the district for $1,000, according to information released last week by the school board.

The new elementary school would be on the current site of Skelly Elementary.

El Dorado superintendent Sue Givens said that even though teachers have proven that they can still teach students in older buildings, the older facilities cost more to operate and can drain district resources in doing so.

The district can also streamline resources in consolidating Skelly and Washington elementary schools, she said.

"It's like driving a 1936 (car) down the road and your neighbors are driving cars with airbags and seat belts," Givens said. "We're preparing kids for the future, not for 1936."

The district has different plans for each of the old schools:

* Washington would be sold or demolished if necessary, Givens said. It might be used for other district programs, too.

* Skelly would be demolished and the site used for the new elementary school.

* El Dorado Middle School would not be demolished and could possibly become the new home for district

offices, Givens said. It could also be sold, but Givens said the district will try to preserve the re-furbished auditorium.

Leachman and Givens both said they have heard from a few people who said taxpayers should vote against the bond issue.

Leachman said he recently retired and is on a fixed income, so he understands and respects people's concerns. Still, he thinks the attractive market for construction bids is an overriding factor.

"Some have said they don't feel that now is the right time," Leachman said, "but I think there comes a time when you're responsible for your kids and their education."

Givens said she understands that it is never a good time to increase taxes, but the attractive bond market allows residents to gain a strong return on investment.

The district also plans to use Qualified School Construction Bonds for the project, which are low-interest federal stimulus bonds. According to the school district, this could save about $3.7 million in finance charges over the life of the bonds and could be used on the Skelly portion of the project.

These bonds are available to schools until Dec. 31.

"The timing sounds terrible with the economy as it is, but we know from area bond issues and projects that have come well under projected costs that costs and interest rates have never been better," Givens said.