Renovated Witzel Learning Center would house district auditorium

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

A facilities plan that includes the partial renovation of the Witzel Learning Center to include a roughly 600-seat auditorium for the Mehlville School District’s performing arts programs was given the green light Thursday night by the Board of Education.

Superintendent Eric Knost’s facilities plan is designed to not only maintain the district’s existing facilities, but also provide much-needed upgrades, including the immediate construction of a district tennis court complex at Bernard Middle School. Board members voted unanimously to approve the proposal.

As proposed, the facilities program would be funded through existing revenues and by utilizing savings realized through the refundings of certificates of participation, or COPs, issued for the district’s Proposition P districtwide building improvement program that was approved by voters in November 2000. No additional funds would be required from the community at this time, according to Knost.

The plan calls for restoring the district’s capital budget to the average dollars spent over the past five years for site improvements — roughly $400,000 to $500,000.

A $1.2 million surplus that resulted from higher-than-projected district balances at the end of the previous school year would be divided over five years and matched each year by $240,000 from district reserves. That will provide enough funding to accomplish a five-year facilities plan previously outlined by Knost minus major HVAC upgrades.

Work that would be performed includes such items as flooring, bleachers, fire alarms and restroom renovations.

Other projects to be funded through the use of district reserves include:

• An estimated $500,000 to $600,000 will be used for the expansion of the district’s one-to-one pilot program that will equip one ninth-grade communications art class at both Mehlville and Oakville high schools with laptop computers instead of textbooks starting with the second semester.

• Roughly $450,000 to fund the construction of the district tennis court complex at Bernard Middle School. Planning will begin immediately for the tennis court complex.

• An estimated $50,000 for a potential 25-kilowatt, return-on-investment solar energy project — possibly at the renovated Witzel Learning Center.

At no point would the district’s reserves drop below Knost’s target of 13 percent.

The partial renovation of the Witzel Learning Center to include the roughly 600-seat auditorium would be funded by utilizing savings realized through the refunding of COPs. Knost estimated the revenue-neutral renovation project would not exceed $5.5 million.

COPs issued in 2001 by the district were refunded last year with a savings of roughly $2.2 million over 10 years and COPs issued in 2002 were refunded earlier this year with a long-term savings of about $1.1 million.

A third refunding with a projected savings of about $2.6 million is anticipated for next spring, according to Chief Financial Officer Noel Knobloch. All told, the district is anticipating a total savings of nearly $6 million from the three refundings.

Performing the partial renovation of the Witzel Learning Center will allow the district to take advantage of low interest rates by issuing additional COPs to fund facility needs only and historically low construction costs.

The superintendent also proposed that at some point in the future, the board may want to consider asking voters to approve “a very small bond issue” to fund an identical auditorium for the Oakville Senior High School campus.

For complete coverage of the Board of Education meeting, read the Dec. 15 Call.