The Ottumwa Courier

March 28, 2013

Fairfield school district voters to consider bond issue

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD — The benefits of remodeling Fairfield High School via a $10 million bond vote extends to more than just the students in the classrooms, local officials say. The issue is up for a vote April 2, but it may be an easier decision than other school construction projects.

For one thing, Fairfield Economic Development Association President Lori Schaefer-Weaton said residents won’t see an increase in their school levy tax bill.

The $10 million issuance of bonds means, she said in a recent press release, there would be a 96 cents per $1,000 debt levy. However, through solid financial management by the school board and administration, other levies will be lowered by $1.52 ... for a net reduction in the [overall] school levy of 57 cents ... “The bottom line … this means a zero property tax increase for our community and the benefit of much-needed improvements for our high school.” 

“The high school is still in pretty good shape,” said Fairfield Superintendent Art Sathoff. “But there are so many issues, issues you don’t see just driving by.”

The proposed improvements focus on HVAC/air quality, accessibility, security, updating science labs, enlarging band and chorus practice areas and providing for new locker rooms and wrestling area.

But because the building is structurally sound, a renovation will work better than attempting to build a new high school.

“We’re [looking to do] a renovation, remodel and a little bit of an addition,” Sathoff said.

An addition isn’t needed because of an increase in students.

“The high school project isn’t so much about square footage,” Sathoff said. “It’s about bringing [FHS] 21st-century learning.

For example, the current old-style science labs can’t really be updated through a simple remodel.

The addition would allow for safe, modern science labs. And when moved, the former science labs could be turned into classrooms.  

But there could be more students in school, or at least the same amount, which would buck the trend seen in other rural Iowa communities.

“Fairfield seems to be growing,” Sathoff said. “Manufacturers are telling me they're ready to expand and hire.”

Iowa educators have long touted the economic benefits of a strong, local education system. Potentially relocating executives want good schools for their children, and so would their employees. Business leaders — both those considering coming to a town and those already there — want to know there is a pool of educated people who can work. And families in a town won’t stay if their children won’t get a proper education.  

Schaefer-Weaton said, “For a community like Fairfield, the quality of our education system is central to our ability to expand, provide a skilled workforce and recruit and retain top talent into our community.”

“There is a strong link between the high quality of education in the Fairfield area and our economic vitality,” said Nancy Morrissey, executive director at the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce, in a message to the Courier. “We need to recognize and support our school system as a primary tool in economic development and [a key] to the overall growth and development of businesses in our county.”

The boards of both organizations voted to support the bond issue, and recommend other members do so.

“Fairfield community public schools has demonstrated good financial stewardship,” said Morrissey. “We are confident that with the passing of this bond referendum, not only will Fairfield schools be able to maintain its excellence in educating our future workforce, but we as a community will be able to attract and retain businesses and employers necessary to the success of Jefferson County.”