At noon every weekday near downtown New Prague, a herd of hundreds of sixth-graders migrates across the street from the site of their morning classes, the Central Education Campus, to New Prague Middle School, where school is held in the afternoon.
The district outgrew the old middle school about eight years ago, and the kids have had to trek across the street, rain or shine, ever since, Superintendent Tim Dittberner said.
In addition to being unsafe and inconvenient, he said, “It’s just not a good long-term solution.”
The New Prague school board hopes changes are coming soon: A middle school renovation and addition, including classrooms, a bigger cafeteria and a new gym, are the centerpiece of a $58.5 million bond referendum. Residents will vote on the proposal May 5.
This is the district’s first bond referendum in nearly a decade. In 2005, voters approved a high school addition and improvements to the district’s energy efficiency.
This spring, in addition to the middle school changes, voters will weigh a renovation of the Central Education Campus building. That project would include a swimming pool addition and demolition of an older portion of the building. Deferred maintenance to several schools and a transportation building addition are also planned.
If the referendum passes, taxes on an average home — valued at $150,000 — would increase $68 a year. A 34-member facilities task force began meeting in the fall to discuss both short- and long-term needs. The group considered three different plans with varying price tags, eventually settling on the middle choice in terms of cost, said Jim Connelly, a task force member.
The option they chose “gave us what we needed, took care of a lot of outstanding capital items and was the most efficient, cost-effective way,” he said.
Dittberner noted the New Prague community is “very financially conservative” and said board members tried to keep that in mind as they planned the referendum.
“We do realize that it’s going to have a significant impact on larger property owners,” said Connelly, a lifelong resident with five grandchildren in the schools. “I’m not the kind of person who talks about dollars per month and this and that because it’s still $58 million bucks.”
The package of improvements is financially responsible, in part because it calls for renovation, rather than building new, Connelly said.
But if the referendum passes, one new thing will be a pool, which the community lacks. It will be attached to the Central Education Campus building. That building currently houses the district offices, community education, early childhood programs and an alternative learning center.
The idea is to build a mini-community center that includes a pool everyone can use, including senior citizens, children and the swim team, along with a community room. The area will have its own separate entrance.
“In my mind, [the pool] is really 25 years past due,” Connelly said, adding that a pool is actually a learning tool, just like a gym.
Currently, the swim team takes a bus to Montgomery to practice in a pool at an old elementary school, board member Kytyn Schoenbauer said.
The board and administrators are preparing to communicate with the community about the referendum in the coming months. Dittberner has 40 meetings scheduled already, he said.
Dittberner said the process has been community-driven, and the projects will benefit everyone who lives in New Prague.
The referendum’s timing was decided because of low interest rates right now, which are projected to go up, Schoenbauer said.
“I’m very hopeful that the district will see the need,” Schoenbauer added.