Westside district residents asked to consider $121 million school bond
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - With the high cost of repairs, sometimes it’s just better to buy new -- or in Westside Community Schools’ case, to build new.
“The infamous tornado of 1975 came right through Westgate and destroyed it. And believe it or not, Westgate was reconstructed in that summer in 80 days,” said Superintendent Dr. Mike Lucas.
That quick rebuild left some things to be desired, he said.
“In working with professionals in the industry, we learned that when renovations cost comes to 80% or more of what new construction costs are, the recommendations should be new,” said Lucas.
In a tour with 6 News, he showed some of the problems with the design of the Westgate building proposed to be rebuilt.
“The only way to get to this classroom is to go through that classroom,” said Lucas.
“We don’t have the shared learning spaces, the flexible learning spaces,” he said.
And a “gym-auditorium” model seen in Westgate and other district schools makes scheduling lunch and gym difficult.
“The same place where you have waffle sticks and syrup for lunch for first graders, an hour later becomes where you’re trying to teach fifth graders the tumbling unit.”
After the school board approved the Phase 2 master plan advancement, the district is asking voters to weigh in. The plan includes rebuilding Westgate, Hillside, and Loveland Elementary schools. They’d renovate three other elementary schools and expand Westside Middle and High Schools.
Phase 1, which included four new buildings, passed in 2014.
“The district did a nice job of making sure the Phase 1 projects were done on time, on budget,” said Lucas.
If approved, the bond would raise property taxes by about $49 for every $100,00 in home valuation. That means a home valued at $300,000 would pay about $150 extra per year to improve the schools across the district.
If residents want to take a look at one of the buildings that may be renovated or completely rebuilt, there are 25 opportunities for them to do so before the mail-in election. Those visits may be particularly helpful for voters without kids in the school system to see what they’d be voting on.
Across the three zip codes Westside schools are in, about one in five people are 65 and over, according to data from the American Community Survey.
“Adding $50 more…We’re both retired here, so we’re working on a fixed income. So that’ll be a problem,” said Jose Montalvo.
“It really doesn’t affect me because I don’t have any young children in school. I mean I can appreciate my neighbors because they do. But I, myself, I’d probably vote against that,” said Kathleen Distefano.
Montalvo said that he would consider taking one of those informational tours before the vote.
“I’d have to give that some thought,” he said.
Voters have until May 9 to make their decision, when a mail-in election will take place.
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