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Louisville community meeting photo

From left, Louisville Board of Education members Ashley Christiansen, Jon Simon, John Winkler, Cindy Osterloh, Andy Mixan and Kara Habrock lead a community engagement meeting Monday night in the Louisville music room. A large crowd attended the meeting to learn about potential plans for a new elementary school and other renovations on campus.

LOUISVILLE – Louisville Board of Education members have watched the district’s student enrollment rise to historic levels over the past few years.

They held a pair of community engagement meetings this week to get public feedback on a proposed solution to that population growth.

Board members unveiled preliminary details of a plan to enhance the Louisville school campus during meetings Monday and Wednesday. The proposal would include construction of a new elementary school building and facility upgrades at the current K-12 structure.

Louisville Board of Education President Cindy Osterloh said board members have spent several years evaluating the district’s population numbers. Louisville Public Schools (LPS) had 580 students in 2013-14 and 691 in 2018-19. She said they realized they needed to develop a plan to address the situation in order to provide a safe and successful academic environment for all students.

“Louisville wasn’t growing 40 years ago the way it’s growing now,” Osterloh said. “We’re going to be bursting at the seams in four years, and that’s if the current population estimates stay flat. We didn’t want to get caught in a situation where we had to scramble, because it’s a four-year process to get a finished building.”

Fellow board members Jon Simon and John Winkler said the group wanted to make sure it gained a large amount of community input before making any final decisions. They said all of the details they presented at the meetings were preliminary in nature and were not set in stone.

“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible,” Simon told Monday night’s audience. “We wanted to get these plans out to the public so you would have the information and could look over them. We welcome your feedback on these.”

“Let us know about these plans,” Winkler said. “If no one says anything, then we can’t make a decision. If you like what you see, tell us. If you don’t like something, tell us that too. We want to have as much information from the public as we can with this.”

LPS Superintendent Andrew Farber began Monday night’s meeting by reviewing the district’s finances. The district receives a majority of its revenue from property taxes and other sources such as OPPD rebates. Louisville receives state aid to fund the rest of the budget.

Farber said LPS officials have tried to be good stewards of community and state resources. The district has reduced its tax levy from $1.19 to $1.16 and has refinanced a bond that will save taxpayers $100,000 over the next six years.

“We take what we need to educate our kids and we give the rest back,” Farber said.

Osterloh said board members hired architects from Omaha-based Alley Poyner Macchietto (APM) to provide expert analysis about LPS facilities. Architects took into consideration that the newest portions of the K-12 building were constructed in 1980. They also learned that Louisville’s population had grown from 1,106 residents in 2010 to 1,295 in 2018. The populations of Cedar Creek and South Bend have also increased in the past decade.

Osterloh said APM provided the school board with three options. The first solution featured a smaller series of renovations inside the elementary and middle school portions of the building. The second option would have included both renovations and additions at the current school.

“The problem with both of those scenarios is their length,” Osterloh said. “Option one would have provided us room to grow for only five to seven years, and then we would be back before the public. The second option would only have provided room to grow for seven to ten years.”

Board members felt a third option – construction of a new elementary school building and renovations inside the current structure – was the best solution. APM estimated that would provide Louisville with at least 16-18 years of room to grow.

Board member Andy Mixan told the audience the district’s priorities included safety of students and staff, retaining and recruiting quality staff members, retaining high-quality education with a rural feel, maintaining appropriate class sizes, remaining financially stable and maintaining a K-12 campus. Those priorities guided board members as they evaluated options.

“We’ve been talking about this for two to three years,” Mixan said. “It takes a long-term plan to figure out all of the details, and that’s what we’ve tried to do. We have taken our time with this.”

Board member Kara Habrock then led the audience through the district’s financial calculations. They felt the top priority was constructing a new elementary building for grades PK-5. The building would include a new gym that could host many community activities.

Habrock said the small size of the current cafeteria and commons area meant students were eating lunches from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. The board felt it was important to expand that area to provide more lunch space and restrooms for students.

A third priority was replacing electrical and ventilation systems in the current building. A fourth priority was adding classrooms for career and technical education subjects such as welding, culinary arts and medical technologies. A fifth priority was renovating the current elementary gym to provide a performing arts space that was more accessible to all patrons.

Habrock said board members are estimating the project will cost between $25 million and $30 million. Those totals are only preliminary at this point and are not the final amount. Architects have not made specific blueprints of any building plans.

Habrock and Simon both spoke about possible locations for a new elementary school building. One option would be to place the building on the current site of the large parking lot near the high school. A second option would be to place the building on the other side of West 3rd Street across from the current school.

Habrock said board members have been in contact with homeowners along West 3rd St. There have only been discussions at this point and nothing has been finalized about the potential purchase of those properties.

If a new elementary school is constructed, the elementary playground would move from its current spot to a location next to the new school. District officials would also meet with city leaders to discuss traffic flow on West 3rd St. in the event the new school is located there.

Winkler presented the potential financial impact the construction of a new school would have for district patrons. A bond of $25 million would mean residents with a $100,000 home would pay $265.43 more in property taxes each year.

That amount would decrease once the district’s current bond is paid off. The current bond is scheduled to expire in 2026, but Winkler said school officials are exploring ways they can pay off that amount sooner.

Board members said they will take all of the community input into consideration and will make a decision about the potential site of the elementary school within the next one to two months. The likely dates for a potential school bond election would be either May 2020 or July 2020.

All board members said they are receptive to hearing community feedback about the proposal. Their e-mail addresses are available at https://lpslions.org. Scroll to District on the homepage and click on Board of Education. Patrons can also contact Farber with questions at afarber@lpslions.org.

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