Union School District -- stock

With two of the four Prop Wildcats projects finished, the Union R-XI School District has turned its sights on the future.

During a special board of education meeting Wednesday, Nov. 6, at its newly renovated maintenance building, the board talked about its next steps and discussed future projects.

Superintendent Dr. Steve Weinhold stressed the conversations were in the very early stages. Right now, he said, the district is just trying to figure out what projects could be in the cards in the near future.

Prop Wildcats, a $27 million bond issue approved by voters in April 2018, helped fund the purchase and renovation of a maintenance facility at 21 Progress Parkway and major renovations to Beaufort Elementary. Both of those projects wrapped up this summer.

Construction is ongoing on a new elementary school and an additional wing to the middle school. Those projects are expected to be finished in time for the 2020-21 school year.

After that work is completed, the district will have to decide it next project. Weinhold and the board have discussed ideas for various projects in workshops, but none are even close to being official, he said. The projects range in size and scope.

Before even considering any future projects, Weinhold said the district has to check its finances. At the board meeting, the first step was to discuss refinancing some bonds.

The bonds, used several years ago for roof and safety improvements, are eligible to be refinanced. The district was told the market is good and it could see some savings.

Board members opted to move forward with the refinancing, but only to get a clearer picture of the savings. If the savings are negligible, the district can choose not to refinance.

The second step involved some long-range planning. The board was presented a close look at finances to see just how much money could be spent on future projects.

Weinhold compared it to when someone is shopping for a new car. He said the district just wants to know how much money it has available to spend.

Because the district just asked voters to approve the Prop Wildcats bond, seeking another bond issue is likely out. The likely solution would be a loan.

Weinhold presented the board with several possible loan options. One was for around $4 million and another for around $5 million. Each option had a 15- and 20-year payoff schedule.

Weinhold told the board he isn’t seeking authorization to take out a loan, but wanted to know if this was a route worth pursuing. If yes, he said the district would then work to identity projects and get cost estimates.

If not, the idea would be dropped.

The board supported the idea. Board member Amy Hall said with the community support behind Prop Wildcats and the positive news around test scores, the district should “ride the wave” and keep moving forward. Others agreed.

In doing so, the district agreed to extend its contract with Navigate Building Solutions for an additional year to help work on potential projects.

Navigate, the district’s owner representative for the Prop Wildcats projects, has acted as a project manager for the district. With the extension, Navigate can assist the district with planning and getting cost estimates for potential new projects.

The board praised Weinhold and the administration for their planning.

“This is the most forward looking plan I’ve ever seen from an administration,” Board President Dr. Virgil Weideman said. “Kudos. I’m a financial guy and this makes financial sense. It really does.”