CENTER, Mo. | Voters in the Ralls County R-II School District will be asked in April to approve a long-range facilities plan that would improve facilities and boost safety and efficiency.
District officials are enthusiastic about the potential changes the plan would bring.
The Ralls County R-II Board of Education regularly met with members of the Long Range Facilities Committee, working together with parents and faculty to determine the highest priority needs for the district. Mark Twain High School was built in 1959 and Mark Twain Junior High School was built in 1970.
The $8,060,420 plan will appear as two questions for voters: a $4.75 million no-tax increase general obligation bond issue and a $3.25 million lease purchase funded by a $0.20 debt service levy increase. District Superintendent Dr. Tara Lewis said committee members worked diligently with board members by distributing surveys, holding community conversations and leading tours of district facilities.
Through the process, they pared the initial $12 million plan down to $8 million with emphasis on the highest priority needs. Initial plans for a $0.46 cent tax levy increase were reduced to a $0.20 increase per $100 of assessed valuation for real and personal property. That equals a $2.38 monthly increase for a home with a market value of $75,000, a $2.78 monthly increase for personal property valued at $50,000 and a $2 monthly increase for farm land valued at $100,000.
Lewis said the district's $3.46 tax levy hasn't changed since 1994. If the five-year plan passes, the tax levy would be $3.66 and the third lowest rate for area school districts. To keep the funding request low, Lewis said the list of projects was reduced, but work would still bring far-reaching benefits.
Lewis said the first question for voters will relate to the no-tax increase bond issue and include a new combination baseball and softball field. The existing softball field is adjacent to the formerCenterElementary School building which was sold after Ralls County Elementary School was completed in 2016. A portion of the land was given to the local 4-H, but the parking spots went along with the school building. A new field would allow for practice and games to be at one location and overcome challenges experienced by teams last fall.
The bond issue would include asbestos removal at Mark Twain Junior High School and Mark TwainHigh School — there are more than 60,000 square feet of asbestos floor tiles and adhesive in the high school and more than 40,000 square feet of asbestos adhesive beneath the tiles. The surfaces are regularly inspected for safety, but there are several sections where tiles or adhesive had to be carefully removed. If the first question passes, all of the asbestos will be gone from the district's building interiors.
Safety and security for students would be addressed with additional parking lot lighting and cameras. Lewis met with Missouri Department of Transportation representatives on planning for an added turn lane and flashers to reduce the traffic from 60 mph to 50 mph. Lewis said the district plans to combine the two campus entrances which are too close together for construction of a new turn lane. The turn lane is currently a “phase two” project for MoDOT, but Lewis hopes the proposed entrance changes could bring the turn lane project to reality sooner when MoDOT resurfaces Mo. 19 in 2022.
Energy efficiency is a high priority, too, and Lewis said many components in the high school and junior high school have been in service since the buildings were constructed. Doors and windows are the main areas of concern, and Lewis said those renovations could bring thousands of dollars in savings. Single-pane windows line the hallway in the junior high school,making the area hot in the summer and chilly in the winter. New windows also would boost safety. She said two students accidentally broke through one of the windows without applying much pressure to the glass.
The second ballot question details projects funded by the proposed lease purchase through the tax levy increase. Plans call for additional lighting and parking for Ralls County Elementary School along with a new ticket and concessions building, fixed bleachers and LED lighting for the football field. The current rock track would be replaced with an all-weather track. The band and choir building would receive needed renovations, and the 1959 agriculture and FFA building would be remodeled with new flooring, windows, efficient heating and cooling systems and safety upgrades.
Lewis and officials throughout the district are hopeful for voter support for the two ballot questions. She said in recent years voters in the neighboring school districts of Monroe City, Palmyra, Hannibal, Bowling Green, Community R-6 and Van-Far all passed tax increase measures to support their districts.
Lewis is looking forward to a forthcoming presentation to student council members to discuss the importance of being active in the voting process and a March meeting with the Young Farmers group. She will be busy handing out pamphlets at area businesses, ready to answer questions about the projects as voters gather information leading up to the election.
“We feel like all of the projects actually connect with every level of students, and these types of improvements are things that need to happen to make sure that Mark Twain can go into the future,” Lewis said. “These are good renovations that will guarantee a lot more years for this school.”