116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
VAN HORNE — The Benton Community School District is considering a $48.5 million school bond referendum to fund school improvement projects, including building a new elementary in Van Horne.
If the bond passes — which requires 60 percent majority approval of voters in the district — the district also would move forward with a renovation and addition at Atkins Elementary School. Safety upgrades and improvements to the heating, cooling and electrical system at Benton middle and high school would also be made.
“When our buildings are aging and those systems are nearly to the end of their life, these improvements are so necessary,” Superintendent Pamela Ewell said. “We want to make sure we have everything up and going for the next 40 years.”
This would be the first bond referendum in the Benton Community School District since 1979. The vote would take place March 7.
The bond issue would increase property taxes by $4.05 per thousand dollars of taxable value. The district’s tax levy currently is $9.70, one of the lowest in the Grant Wood Area Education Agency region. If the bond passes, a homeowner with a home valued at $200,000 would see an increase to $418.81 in school property taxes a year, or $34.90 cents a month. A homeowner with a home valued at $100,000 would see an increase to $199.58 a year in school property taxes, or $16.63 a month.
Ewell — who is retiring at the end of the school year after four years as superintendent of Benton — said the district has been “very resourceful” over the last 40 years, but now a bond is needed to continue making improvements to district facilities.
The district serves about 1,700 K-12 students across eight communities — Atkins, Blairstown, Elberon, Keystone, Newhall, Norway, Van Horne and Watkins — and is growing by 1 to 2 percent every year, Ewell said.
The school district has five buildings, including the district’s offices. Atkins and Keystone elementary schools serve prekindergarten to third-graders; Norway Intermediate serves fourth to sixth-graders; and Benton middle school/high school for seventh to 12th-graders.
Land would need to be acquired to build an 80,000-square-foot elementary school, with the capacity for between 600 to 700 prekindergarten to sixth-graders. The school could open as early as the 2026-27 school year.
An elementary school in Van Horne was discontinued in 2015 after the building — built in the 1960s — was deemed unusable, Ewell said. The building is now used for storage.
Van Horne Mayor Patrick Gorkow said it would be great to have an elementary school in the city again. Not only would it create easier access for students and families, but it might create a demand for additional housing, he said.
Andrea Townsley, a resident of Van Horne, said Benton students deserve access to more equitable learning spaces.
“I’ve been in all of our buidlings, and I know they are not the most safe and equitable environments our kids deserve,” Townsley said.
Townsley is leading a group called Benton County Vote Yes in support of the bond referendum. She graduated from the Benton Community School District in 1999. Her children now attend Benton middle and high school.
Townsley’s first job as an educator was at Keystone Elementary, where she worked for eight years. Townsley was then an instructional coach for Benton schools before taking a job as a school improvement consultant for the Grant Wood AEA.
Townsley has a cousin whose daughter — born at only 24-weeks --— will be enrolled at Keystone Elementary as a preschooler in February. Because she is a student with special needs, “the building is not accessible to her,” Townsley said. “The staff have hearts of gold and will do everything they can to serve her.”
Stairs lead up to Keystone’s library, art room, music room and lunch room, Townsley said. The restrooms and playground also are not accessible for students with special needs, she said.
“All kids deserve access to a safe learning environment — my cousin’s child included,” Townsley said.
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