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Preparing for Growth: Construction underway after passage of Republic schools' $16M bond issue

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The April 6 passage of a $16 million bond issue for Republic schools means the district will be better prepared for a significant uptick in student enrollment expected in the next few years, officials say.

According to the Greene County clerk’s office, nearly 83% of district voters approved the issue, which allows for the construction of a new early childhood center with a storm shelter, a gymnasium and storm shelter at Schofield Elementary, and funds to purchase property for a new school building. The bond issue extends the district’s overall debt but doesn’t increase residents’ property tax bills.

“We were very excited. The passing rate probably shows how much our community supports our schools,” said Republic Superintendent Matt Pearce, who became the district’s leader last summer. “It was a reflection on how the community not only supports us but feels about how this year has gone.”

Pearce, an eight-year district employee, said the bond passage was vital to stay ahead of current and future enrollment growth. Slightly more than 4,900 students were enrolled at the start of the 2020-21 school year, a 5% increase since 2016-17. He said the district projects another 500 students in the next two to four years.

The district projections are based on over a thousand residential units in some stage of development in Republic, said City Administrator David Cameron. He said city officials monitor single-family and multifamily residential project phases, including application, construction and final plat.

“To give perspective, in 2016, by the summer, we had 60-80 houses in some phase of that process,” Cameron said. “We’re tracking at present around 1,300 residential units. I’m not talking about being built this year but in the process. It’s probably over the next 18 months.”

City officials estimate the population will increase to nearly 24,400 in 2026 – a roughly 55% jump over 2016’s total of 15,766.

Construction time
The bond issue passage gives the green light to construct the new $10.2 million early childhood center with an attached high-wind shelter. The facility at the corner of East Hines Street and North Hampton Avenue will replace the current center at 636 N. Main St.

“Once that current childhood facility is empty – and that should be the fall of 2022 – we’ll do some light renovation in there and push all of the central office people over there,” Pearce said, noting the district administration currently works out of Price Elementary School.

The new early childhood center and district office move will free up around 10 classrooms to accommodate growth, Pearce said. It also will cut into the preschool wait list, which he said was near 150 children at the start of this school year.

“We’re going to serve as many prekindergarten students as we possibly can to get them ready socially and academically to go into kindergarten on more of a level playing field,” he said.

The $2.8 million Schofield Elementary gymnasium and storm shelter work will take place simultaneously to the early childhood center construction, Pearce said. Federal Construction Inc. serves as general contractor and H Design Group LLC is architect for both projects, he said, adding they are expected to be substantially complete by July 31, 2022.

Markie Bravestone, Schofield Elementary principal, said students have had to cross East Anderson Street for years to access McCullough Elementary’s gym. Schofield is the only school building without its own gym, officials say.

“We’re really excited to be able to come together as a building and continue to build that community. It’s going to make that a whole heck of a lot easier than it has been,” she said. “McCullough is always a good host but it’s going to be nice to be able to stay inside the walls.”

Schofield serves over 470 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, Pearce said. It’s a number Bravestone is confident will grow as more people move to town. Some will undoubtedly relocate for work as projects from Inc. and nonprofit Convoy of Hope launch later this year, she said.

“With the new housing developments that are being put up pretty regularly and whatever Amazon and Convoy of Hope bring to us, we’re going to continue to see people moving in from all over,” Bravestone said.

Sense of urgency
Cameron said the city holds meetings every other month with the school district to provide real-time data on residential, commercial and industrial projects.

“There’s no way of really knowing how big it will get,” he said of residential growth in the coming years. “We have a good idea what the next 12, 24 months look like and what the impact will be to the school district.”

That short-term projection is assuming there’s no economic bubble burst on the horizon.

“There’s a lot of presumption there because the market can change tomorrow in housing like we saw in 2007,” he said of the start of the Great Recession. “There’s always that potential.”

With so many new houses in various stages of development over the next couple of years, Bravestone said there’s a sense of urgency for the district to continue meeting students’ needs.

“Our school does a great job of prioritizing the needs of each kid, so I don’t feel like we’ve ever been behind the start line,” she said. “We can provide kids with what they need. But we’re definitely going to see that continue to grow as the years go on.”

Pearce agreed, adding that’s really what the bond was all about.

“The growth is coming,” he said. “When all those homes get finished, every elementary and our middle school and high school will have additional kids.”

The district’s workforce also is expected to expand as classroom space opens up. The school district employs around 750 – a number Pearce said has increased every year since he started in 2013.

The bond issue’s passage also allows the district to purchase property for a future school building.

The cost, location and facility use are undetermined, officials say.

Pearce said the future building is a second phase of the district’s facilities plan.

“We’ve been looking at some areas around Republic and within our boundary,” he said.

“We’ll continue to do that and dial in on some property that has good infrastructure that we can get water, sewer and utilities data – all the things we need to get to the building. We’ll decide how we want to proceed based on those things.”


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