COLUMBUS — The Columbus Public Schools Board of Education recently approved calling a special election in May for voters to decide on a $53.5 million facilities bond referendum.
Voters residing within the school district can expect to receive a ballot in the mail near the end of April.
According to a bond issue information sheet provided by the district, if voters approve the bond issue, those residing in the school district would see a property tax increase of $4 per month on a $100,000 home.
Last year, the school district paid off its 1999 and 2003 bonds early. A 2014 bond for the construction of a new Columbus High School and conversion of the old high school into Columbus Middle School was refinanced in 2020 — the middle school portion of that bond will be retired early in 2024. Due to its refinancing and early bond retirements, the district has saved roughly $13 million.
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Columbus is the fourth-fastest growing community in Nebraska, with the school district having exceeded capacity at Lost Creek Elementary School and Columbus Middle School, the district says. It is also within 10 students of capacity at three of its other elementary schools — Emerson, North Park and West Park.
Conversations with the community began in December 2021, with public meetings being held regularly to gain feedback about the district’s needs and efforts the public would support in expanding school facilities.
Based on feedback gained through survey results from those meetings, online and by phone, the projects are set to include:
* Construction of a new K-4 elementary school, the district’s sixth elementary school, to be built on land the district owns, on Third Avenue, north of 30th Street.
* Additions and improvements at existing elementary schools — dining areas at North Park and Centennial and new health and physical education facilities at Emerson and West Park.
* Classroom addition and remodeling of dining facilities at the middle school.
* Renovating and improving district facilities for education and operational use — remodeling the current administration building for specialized instruction (typically called alternative education).
* Classroom addition and improvements to the high school — there is limited space for more programming.
The special all-mail election is set for May 9. The Platte County Election Commissioner’s Office will mail ballots to registered voters residing within the school district April 17-29. Ballots will need to be returned by 5 p.m. May 9 to be counted.
Superintendent Troy Loeffelholz said the district has put in a lot of work the last two years on the bond issue.
“Now it's real and we need to go out and tell our story. That's what it's all about, telling our story about our needs,” Loeffelholz said. “Overwhelmed, but excited. We've got a good road to go.”
Lincoln-based architecture firm Clark & Enersen was brought on last October, and the school board OK’d on March 9 an agreement with Boyd Jones as the construction manager at-risk for the potential projects.
Board member Mike Jeffryes noted he had served on the bond election committee during the school district's last bond issue in 2014.
“What made it easy to sell last time is what I hope to sell this time is that it's a district-wide K-12 solution,” Jeffryes said. “It's not just a Band-Aid on one thing, it's an entire K-12 solution that affects all of our kids.”