Officials express high hopes for NEVC district's proposed new facility

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Walker, Mo. -- Walker residents, officials and school staff all gathered together on Thursday, eagerly anticipating information about the current state of their school, students and the possibility of Northeast Vernon County R-1 building a brand new facility.

School board members, led by Superintendent Charles Naas called the meeting to answer some questions and address rumors which have been spreading throughout the county.

Naas began the meeting with specifications for a new, centralized school the district hopes to build in the very near future.

The proposed school would be located in the Harwood area, just east of the intersection of highways Y and C. Currently, elementary students are transported to Schell City while high school students attend at Walker, a separation of several miles. The new facility would house all of the district's 250 students in kindergarten through 12th grades at one location. According to school officials, this would provide a large cost savings by reducing the amount travel needed for student transportation. "We have students who are here at seven in the morning waiting and get dropped off at home quarter after four. We are shuttling the kids from one school to the other, costing us a lot of extra mileage. Most of the time, we're passing each other coming and going," said Chris Dryer Vocational Agriculture teacher for NEVC high school.

Safety and comfort concerns mentioned by Naas during the meeting included several sections of the current building but focused on the poor structural integrity and lack of proper heating.

While providing a tour of the current high school, guides pointed out bowing floors, cracked walls, falling ceilings, separations between the floors and joists, exposed electrical wiring and a non-operational boiler. Several classrooms do contain independent heating and cooling systems; however, these systems are very inefficient to run. Other classes, such as the high school lab, can only be used when conditions are comfortable enough for students.

As far as the monetary needs for the new project and plans of action to acquire them goes, Naas said, a levy increase will hopefully be included on the ballot for the upcoming April elections. Estimates for the building are around $4.5 million which would require the tax increase of $180.50 per year for homes at $50,000 and $320 for homes at $50,000 with 160 or more acres. With an assessed valuation of the district at $16,227,864, the school would be able to secure a bond at 15 percent of this number. However, this would still leave them approximately $2 million dollars under the estimated $4.5 million needed.

Among the many reasons listed by the NEVC school board trying to justify a new facility was energy efficiency. Current energy bills are listed Between $70,000 and $80,000 a year. The new school would require only 30 to 50 percent of this usage.

One final point mentioned by Naas was the frequently asked question, why can't the school be repaired?

He responded to this by saying, there is only so many times you can fix something. Crystal Burch, fourth grade teacher, Schell City Elementary commented later saying, "Our maintenance guys do such a good job painting the place and fixing it up. They try and work hard but you can only repair things so many times,"

Following Naas' speech to Walker residents, Ron Wilken State Supervisor of NEVC R-1 district for Department of Elementary and Secondary Education responded to a rumor claimed to be circulating around the area. He said, "The state has no intention of closing down any Northeast Vernon County Schools. The state has no intention of closing down any Northeast Vernon County schools." According to Wilken, NEVC is currently meeting seven of 14 standards inspected by state officials. Since passing five to eight of these standards allows a school to receive the status of "partially accredited,' NEVC is not in jeopardy of having its doors closed by the state -- at least, not this year.

Follow-up board meetings are expected to continue up until an official vote is conducted for the needed funds to begin building. If the district were allowed to move forward in the project and build a new school, construction is expected to take around 18 months.

Naas believes the new building could be ready and available by the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.

While several parties have made negative comments about the school and higher taxes, Naas reports a positive reaction to the proposed project.

He said, "I have just been astounded by the show of support we have received from the community in getting this school built."

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