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A balancing act

CCA Board seeks a fiscally possible and responsible path to continued enrollment growth
Clear Creek Amana School Board members Matt McAreavy, Bob Broghammer, Kathy Swenka and Nikki Knapp react to the realization that available financing may not be adequate in the future to meet the growing district’s facility needs, prompting a discussion centered around balancing space needs with available dollars.

OXFORD– With the strong possibility of a bond referendum in September looming ever larger on the horizon, the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) School Board took up the juggling act of balancing the need for more academic space with the fiscal constraints of available funding during a Wednesday, March 4, work session.
Rob Schwarz, the CEO of RSP & Associates, the district’s enrollment forecast and facilities planning consultant, and Tim Oswald, managing director of public finance investment banking with Piper Sandler (formerly Piper Jaffray), the district’s financial advisor, presented the latest enrollment and space needs forecasts, and the latest financial projections.
Enrollment will continue to grow over the next decade, Schwarz said, noting by the 2027-28 school year all elementary school space will be full unless additional facilities are built. He noted that was including space currently open at Amana Elementary. RSP projections show the middle school completely maxed out in the 2026-27 school year, while the high school will be fine until 2029-30 thanks to a second addition (the final project remaining from the $36 million 2017 bond issue). RSP bases their projections on past history as well as frequent communication with local governments regarding new housing developments and demographic trends.
Enrollment growth for the current school year was only 107 new students, down from projections, but Schwarz noted the West Land Use in Coralville hasn’t experienced its projected growth yet. Estimates have shown the future population of the area, bordered by Highway 965, Highway 6, Interstate 380, and Forevergreen Road, could reach 10,000. Such growth would surely have an impact on the district, he said.
The committee, he said, reached 100 percent consensus in constructing another additional “pod” of classrooms to North Bend Elementary in North Liberty, which would increase the school’s capacity from 450 to 600 students at an estimated cost of $7 million. Additions at the middle school (commons area and fine arts facilities) and high school (career/technical education and fine arts facilities) were also recommended at an estimate of $4 million and $10 million, respectively. The committee also agreed a new elementary school will be needed at an estimated cost of $25 million.
Superintendent Tim Kuehl said he was talking with Kirkwood Community College to seek ways of utilizing their programs and facilities (available at the Regional Center in nearby Oakdale) even more as a possible way to build less, particularly in the technical and career education programs.
Any construction project will be dependent on available dollars, which brought Oswald to the podium with the sobering realization that today’s dollar estimates will mean little as projects are scheduled (and financed) years later. And, even with a projected continued growth in valuation, which determines property tax revenue for the district, the dollars to do all of the aforementioned projects likely won’t be accessible.
“We’re talking six-to-eight years out, but we’re not talking about inflation,” Oswald said. “We’d better be thinking the number (estimated cost) today won’t be the number tomorrow.” Oswald said the district has seen an average of $100 million in valuation growth per year, but cautioned the trend, for many reasons, may not continue. The district had been eagerly anticipating having the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville come off of TIF (Tax Increment Financing), with an anticipated wave of property tax revenue. However, the mall’s valuation dropped due to many empty spaces within. In addition, the valuation on agricultural property has dropped.
Oswald suggested a one-project-at-a-time approach with a year or two in between to build up the finances. However, this would potentially push back the new elementary to at least 2025-2026.
Kuehl suggested building the new elementary, at a site yet to be determined, first.
“There is value in doing big projects first,” he said looking at a financial benefit as costs increase each year. And, he noted, the building would solve multiple space issues while the North Bend addition would only temporarily help North Bend. He also reiterated bonding for the projects will not impact the $4.05 tax levy, stating it will remain the same. Property owners have seen several increases in recent years in their property tax, however Kuehl pointed out that was due to an increase in the valuation, which originates with local and county governments, and not from any action by the school district.
A final decision on projects and ballot language is anticipated soon with the referendum held in September.