The school board’s decision Monday to tap the brakes a bit on the assessment of the country club site as a possible location for a new elementary school makes sense. It’s also an important indicator that what had appeared at times to be a headlong rush is a more deliberate process than critics might allow.
Board members decided the proposal didn’t offer enough benefits to justify the price tag. DLR Group, the company hired as architects for the school, offered the assessment for $12,500. The board felt that’s a bit much for the publicly available information, like zoning and the approximate size of the site, which made up the bulk of the proposal.
They were right. For information like that, the cost should be relatively low. It’s a matter of checking public records, not doing deep investigations into the property.
The site’s location was revealed in documents the school district placed online in advance of the board’s meeting, though rumors about it had been percolating through Ottumwa for some time. Geographically, the location makes a lot of sense. It’s far closer to Horace Mann and Wilson, the elementary schools the district is considering folding into the new school, than the Walsh site.
Access to the area is fairly easy, with both North Court Street and Alta Vista Avenue running alongside it. The devil is in the details, of course, but there is certainly the potential for a better layout of entrances and exits than exists at some Ottumwa schools.
It’s worth remembering that there are a lot of details that are not known. It seems doubtful the school district would need the entire property. And the country club’s ability to retain existing amenities aside from the course would seem possible. But that’s pure speculation at this point, and it’s a road we won’t go further down at this time.
Ottumwa, like many Iowa communities, faces serious challenges with its school system. Populations in rural parts of the state are in decline. Ottumwa’s has held steady, largely through immigration brought by JBS and its predecessors.
That has helped the school district, too. Immigrant families often have more children than those who have been here multiple generations. There are challenges, of course, but the district is working to address those.
But the long-term trends are clear. The student populations in Ottumwa are likely to decline. That will make it more difficult to maintain the schools Ottumwa has, especially when several are already in need of expensive maintenance. Consolidation and new construction may well be required as the fiscally responsible steps.
Discussions about the potential for a new elementary school have been contentious at times. That’s not a problem. Board members should be free to speak their minds on issues, especially when they are of this importance. Some debates have bordered on becoming heated, but they have never crossed the line into unproductive argument. The board members deserve credit for handling themselves in a manner that befits their positions as representatives of the public.
Monday’s decision does not abandon the district’s plans, but it does show the board continues to assess and make careful decisions. And that’s exactly what they should be doing.