Blair Oaks explores four building projects

Entering into a lease-purchase agreement to accomplish some relatively minimal construction projects now would allow the Blair Oaks Board of Education to preserve enough bonding capacity to build another school sometime later.

At a special meeting Thursday night, the board heard details about four building projects they have been contemplating recently. The board also scheduled a hearing for 6:30 p.m. May 14 to give the district’s residents an opportunity to share their thoughts about the lease-purchase concept.

As envisioned, the four projects include: adding two classrooms, a teacher work space and an ADA-accessible restroom at the elementary school; installing air conditioning in the high school gymnasium; building a new weight/wrestling room for the high school; and improving the district’s track-and-field facility.

Combined together, the projects are estimated to cost $1.5 million.

Although the projects share no obvious commonalities, by bidding the work as a package, school administrators hope to achieve economies of scale they hope will reduce construction expenses. For example, the same rig necessary for drilling piers underneath the new weight/wrestling room will also be on site to drill two piers needed for the elementary school addition.

No taxes will need to be raised to pay for the work, Superintendent Jim Jones said.

Under Missouri law, the board may enter into a lease-purchase agreement to finance capital facilities and major equipment purchases. Typically, a lease-purchase agreement allows for portions of lease payments to be used to pay for the property being constructed.

The legal structure of the lease-purchase requires the school board to enter into an agreement with a not-for-profit corporation. For financing handled by L.J. Hart & Company — the firm working with Blair Oaks — the Missouri Association of Rural Education, or MARE, serves in that capacity.

He said the district can use state funds — such as Classroom Trust Funds that come from gaming revenues — to make the annual lease payments, and still have a portion of that funding source available for other projects, such as roof repairs, if necessary.

Depending on what option they choose, the payback period could range between seven and 15 years, with annual payments ranging between $275,000 and $135,000. The interest rates being proposed range between 1.83 and 2.75 percent.

“We’re looking at very low interest rates,” Jones said.

Jones said he likes this plan because it preserves the overall capacity of the district to issue general obligation bonds at some point in the future.

A plank in the Missouri Constitution caps the amount of borrowing a school district can enter into at 15 percent of its total assessed valuation. In the fast-growing Blair Oaks School District, it’s not enough to build an entire new school building today.

However, the bonding available to the district will be $8.12 million by the 2015-16 school year and $16.4 million by the 2020-21 school year, which may be enough to get a school started someday.

For the board, however, Thursday evening’s meeting was devoted more to learning about the details of the four construction projects, as opposed to financial matters.

Cary Gampher, principal architect with The Architects Alliance, told the group the elementary school addition would add 3,000 square feet to the school. It would have masonry walls and a steel roof. The existing doors will be reused in the new vestibule, and the windows will match those in the existing wing.

He also said it will take a 70-ton unit and new duct work to heat and cool the high school gymnasium. (The new system will replace the old heating system.) Engineers have not yet determined if the best place to mount that equipment is on the roof of the gym, the roof of the new wrestling/weight room or on the ground.

The new wrestling/weight room will add 5,100 square feet to the school, replacing and doubling the existing facility. The new room will have more than one level, but the spaces likely will be divided by either a railing or a foldable partition wall. The room will have a sealed concrete floor and exposed steel structure on the ceiling. A section of glass will face out toward the football field, Gampher said.

Part of the multi-purpose space will be suitable for cheerleading and dance practice, but there will also be adequate space for athletes to lift weights and wrestlers to leave their mats out.

Finally, the board is planning improvements to the shot put and discus areas at Falcon Athletic Complex.

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