Education

Growing College Community schools seek $54 million bond sale

Expanding tax base would keep its property tax rate the same

Part of a 10-year-facility plan, a new band room at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids can be divided into two, as show
Part of a 10-year-facility plan, a new band room at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids can be divided into two, as shown here Monday. Renovations and expansion at the high school will be completed this year and were funded with a bond issue passed in 2016. The district will ask voters in March to approve another bond issue to allow the complete facilities plan — which includes a new school — to be finished. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Workers wheeled furniture Monday into Prairie High School’s new main office, where dust has settled on mailroom counters and the principal’s office is empty save for a TV and stacks of unpacked boxes.

The space, set to be finished this month, is one of the high school’s final projects under the College Community School District’s 10-year facilities plan.

The facilities plan, which outlines projects from 2013 to 2023, so far has been funded largely by a $49.5 million general obligation bond passed by voters in 2016.

On March 3, the district will ask voters in ts boundaries to approve another property tax-backed bond issue, this one of $54 million.

Approval of the bond — which requires 60 percent of the vote — would keep the district’s tax rate at $16.61 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value.

The bond, with revenue from a state penny sales tax known as SAVE, would be used to complete the last projects in the district’s facilities plan — a new school for grades five and six, and work to turn the existing fifth- and sixth-grade building into a school for ninth-graders.

“This is that last tipping point for our district to be able to accommodate our growth,” Superintendent Doug Wheeler said. “And not just accommodate it, but serve students well. There’s a difference — there’s having space, and then there’s having space that works for your kids.”

Growing enrollment

The College Community district, where school facilities are located on one campus in south Cedar Rapids, has experienced steady enrollment growth since 2009.

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About 50 to 70 more students have enrolled each year since then, Wheeler said, and growth could continue as housing developments finish in Fairfax, Ely and Cedar Rapids. About 5,800 are enrolled this school year.

That growing tax base and property valuation, he said, allows the district to issue a bond without raising the tax rate.

“There’s always that middle ground between a very aggressive approach and a very conservative approach, and I think our district has been really smart about how to approach that,” said Wheeler, who joined the district in 2018. “Since the growth is continuing, the nice thing about this last piece is we can leverage different levels within our tax base to not have to raise taxes to do this.”

If voters decline the bond March 3, Wheeler said the district plans to increase its debt service levy — effectively keeping the rate stable — to pay down its debts.

“You could say taxes aren’t going to go up, but they’re not going to go down, either,” he said.

The 2016 bond passed with 68 percent of the vote, according to records from the Linn County Auditor’s Office.

Ongoing and remaining projects from that bond include renovations at Prairie View, Prairie Heights and Prairie Crest elementaries. The district said View should be done by August, Heights’ construction will start in May and work to Crest is further out.

Approximate location of new school for 5th and 6th grade

All of the projects included in the 2016 bond had a budget of $72.2 million, district Chief Financial Officer Angie Morrison said.

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Budgets last updated through November show projects were fiscally on track, though Prairie Heights’ updates are expected to eat $5.1 million of the $7.1 million budgeted for both Heights and Prairie Crest.

new school in 2023

If the bond passes, the district hopes to finish the new school for grades five and six by fall 2023.

The facility would be on the southeast corner of the district campus, directly south of Prairie Point Middle School.

The 180,000-square-foot school would be built for eight “neighborhoods” of six classrooms each. Each neighborhood would have a 120-student capacity, giving the building space for 960.

The school also would have two gyms and art, music and media centers.

Once the school is finished, Wheeler said the district would move fifth- and sixth-graders from their current school, Prairie Creek, to the new facility.

Prairie Creek, which is near the high school, would then be remodeled to hold ninth-graders as well as the district’s alternative high school. A walkway would be built to connect the school to Prairie High.

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

Learn More

What: Open house for recently-completed projects

Where: Prairie High School, 401 76th Ave. SW

When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30

What: Bond issue town halls

Where: Prairie Creek Intermediate library, 401 76th Ave. SW

When: 5 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 5 and Feb. 19

More information: prairiepride.org/news.

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