Board seeks floor plans for possible addition

Board seeks floor plans for possible addition

ST. JOSEPH – Tom Mathis of Ogden says he is amazed at how fast the St. Joseph-Ogden school district is growing.

"Every time you turn around, there is a new housing development going up here or a new subdivision going up there," said Mathis, a member of the high school board.

The high school, built in 1926 with additions in 1963 and 1976, will soon be too small to handle the area's growing population, school officials say.

The school board paved the way on Tuesday for more room – if voters agree to pay higher property taxes.

According to Superintendent Victor Zimmerman, the high school began last year with 469 students. This year, it has 490 students.

"We only have two empty lockers left," Zimmerman said.

With several new subdivisions expected to be completed in St. Joseph in the next four years, Zimmerman projects the student population to increase well beyond 500.

The St. Joseph-Ogden High School board voted 7-0 at a special meeting Tuesday to approve an architectural agreement with FGM Architects and Engineers, Peoria, to develop floor plans, a budget and other pre-construction work to develop a 39,870-square-foot addition to the high school.

The board also voted 7-0 to hire FGM for $4,000 to study life safety issues in the current school over the next 10 years.

Zimmerman estimated the building expansion project would cost between $8 million and $9 million.

The project would include a two-story addition with 10 to 12 classrooms, a cafeteria, a commons area, a band/chorus room, weight room and a second gymnasium that might be converted into an auditorium; renovations to portions of the current building; the construction of a circle drive leading to the school and demolition of the old music and ag building.

"The priority for us is the added classroom space," said school board member Les Hoveln of rural Urbana.

The addition would either be built as a single structure on the west side of the current school or would include one structure on the north side and another on the west side.

Zimmerman said the school board will vote in December on whether to put a question on the March 2006 ballot to raise property taxes to finance the project.

The amount of the tax increase won't be determined until FGM completes more detailed plans and finalizes costs.

If voters approve the tax increase, Zimmerman said, construction would begin in the summer of 2006. The new wing would open by the fall of 2007.

School board President Paul Duitsman of St. Joseph said the district has been studying building needs for 22 months.

One early proposal called for an entirely new high school at a new location, but Duitsman said that was rejected because its costs would exceed the school district's bonding limits.

The board also considered building an entirely new school on the site of the current school.

But Zimmerman said that was rejected because it would take six years.

"We would have two classes of students spending their entire high school years during construction, and that was unacceptable," Zimmerman said.

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