Publisher's Notebook

Take time in planning process


I can’t make this clear enough, Wednesday night’s conversation with Ellis Construction and Invision Architecture wasn’t the end-all, be-all for the Hampton-Dumont Community School District. It was just the beginning of a discussion.

That being said, the district was hoping – for a very economical cost – to find out what the price tag would be to fix their building issues at three different schools: South Side Elementary, North Side Elementary, and Hampton-Dumont Middle School.

I also think they were genuinely shocked at what they discovered.

A $10 million price tag for South Side. Those costs would include moving fourth grade back to South Side and bringing the PreSchool and Prep-kindergarten classes to South Side as well while closing North Side.

If they scaled down the South Side project, North Side needs an estimated $2.4 million to bring it up to comparable standards at South Side. The middle school would need about $1.4 million in work if the district elected to keep the fourth grade at that building.

All of the details of the plans are spelled out elsewhere in the paper.

Superintendent Todd Lettow made it crystal clear during and after the meeting – the district’s wasn’t interested in going after a bond issue. It hadn’t been discussed.

Kate Payne and Paul Newhart stressed over and over again that the plans shown were from a one-day visit to the community.

In order to get a full and accurate picture, much more time and money needs to be invested.

However, with the rough guideline, the board was interested in gathering more community input. Not just from staff, but from advocates and opponents of such a project about what they hope to see.

They realize some things need to be done, and they also realize prioritizing those projects will be key.

So, let’s go one step further and throw another proverbial log on the fire shall we….

For the sake of getting all of the options on the table, let’s consider the feasibility of a brand-new elementary building.

It wasn’t discussed at any point on Wednesday night, at what price range does consideration of a new elementary building enter the conversation for comparison’s sake? This could provide a valuable assessment worth pursuing in the future if the district continues to grow.

For instance, if it takes $10 million to add a few classrooms, a new office, and a couple of fenced-off playgrounds, what does it cost for a new school building?

Less than 10 years ago, this district constructed the new middle school for $7.8 million. With inflation, that’s hypothetically (purely speculation on my part, no reasoned data behind the number) going to push a new elementary facility in the $15-$20 million price range.

I’m not saying that’s the best answer – far from it. But rather, the district needs to find out what it would cost.

My goal with this line of thinking is that if we need to make a 15-year commitment of finances, we just need to think the whole process through. It allows for a well-reasoned decision to be made.

South Side has served its purpose well and likely still has many more good years ahead of it. But, thinking out loud, what’s the viability of sticking a $10 million addition on a 30-plus year old building?

It’s a charge the district needs to look at carefully, and I think they are already.

They said over and over again that they were aware of the property tax rates in Hampton.

In the district’s defense, they simply wanted to add some classroom space to the lower elementary classes to ease the overcrowding issues. South Side is overflowing with students. It is currently one classroom short with a small three-section third grade in the building. The district is currently projecting a four-section kindergarten next year with the possibility of having five.

That creates a major crunch on space.

Obviously, any project won’t be ready for next fall. In fact, they project any work won’t even begin until the summer of 2015.

With all that in mind, I think the district needs to take the time and really study the issue overall. If H-D does need to accomplish all of this work to these buildings, which few would argue with the majority of the points, then what should the future look like with all options on the table?


Ryan Harvey is the president and CEO of Mid-America Publishing and publisher of the Hampton Chronicle.