Replacing nearly 100-year-old Pipkin Middle School is the top priority of a task force that voted to recommend a $220 school bond issue in the spring. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Two new middle school buildings, one major school renovation and a collection of safety upgrades across the district would be what voters are asked to approve next spring if the Springfield Public Schools Board of Education follows a set of administrative recommendations regarding a $220 million bond vote. They are: 

  • A new Pipkin Middle School, ideally on a new, more spacious site ($53 million)
  • Safety upgrades, including new storm shelter-gymnasiums at six elementary schools and other security measures installed across the district ($37.3 million)
  • A renovated Pershing K-8 ($50.5 million) that might become a middle school
  • A new Reed Academy ($59.5 million)

Those suggestions build upon the work of a task force that spent months touring public school buildings and learning the ins and outs of school bond issues.

The group recommended a fifth project, a new Robberson Community School ($31.7 million). But the $220 bond falls about $12 million short of projected costs for the five projects. 

On Tuesday, two district leaders who helped guide the task force’s process, John Mulford and Travis Shaw, recommended to the school board that the district hit pause on addressing a Robberson rebuild until the district completes demographics and boundaries studies that will help determine what capacity that elementary school and others should be. It will also help determine if Pershing should make the switch from K-8 to a middle school, said Mulford, the district’s deputy superintendent. 

The total estimated costs of the four projects are $200,504,000. Should any of the projects come in under budget, the district could get to work on either a new Robberson or an estimated $22.7 million renovation to Bingham Elementary School, which ranked just below Robberson in task force voting on priority projects. 

Board members seek to have say in design

In addition to voting on bond language and project priorities, Maryam Mohammadkhani, the board’s vice president, asked, “Could we have a vote on the final design?” Mohammadkhani mentioned constituent concerns about maintaining Pipkin’s exterior character with a new build, while also creating an optimal, cost-effective learning space inside. 

Mulford and Shaw presented an option to have a say in that by way of hiring owner’s representatives for the facility projects. An owner’s representative is an independent consultant who works with architects and the district from a building’s start to finish, said Shaw, the district’s executive director of operations. 

“What an owner’s rep is, is essentially a third party technical consultant that is involved on behalf of the district during the design process,” Mulford said. “They work alongside Dr. Shaw, and the architects to review designs, do cost estimates, keep us informed along the way of what the cost of the project will be based on that stage of the design.”

They will also work with two board members, Kelly Byrne and Scott Crise, who asked to sit in on final candidate interviews and future meetings with owner’s representatives. 

Crise, a project manager with Associated Electric Cooperative, said the company uses owner’s representatives on all large capital projects. While the school district has Shaw and two project managers on staff, “but that’s not enough,” Crise said. 

“You need an owner’s representative to be able to look at everything,” he said.

Byrne said he wanted board members to be in the room for the hiring process. 

“I’d be happy to volunteer and be one of those people so that we can really understand what we’re hiring,” he said. 

Byrne was asked by board member Shurita Thomas-Tate why the owner’s representative position should have different hiring oversight than other district contract hires.

“Because we’re talking about spending $220 million, and it’s the elected officials of the board who have the most responsibility to the taxpayers and voters,” Byrne said. “There’s no one else with more motivation. And this is not to diminish anyone else’s intents, but there’s no one else with more motivation than the elected officials to represent the taxpayers. And the purpose of the owner’s rep is to make sure that everything’s efficient through the design process, to make sure that the taxpayers are being represented and there’s no waste in the process. And it doesn’t have to be adversarial or anything like that. But it’s just an appropriate layer to make sure that the taxpayers who are voting for this are given a seat at the table by passing that through us, the elected members.”

The district this week will release a request for proposals for owner’s representatives, and Byrne and Crise will sit in on final interviews. 

$220 million bond issuance described as ‘ultra-conservative’ ask of voters

On Tuesday, the board members heard from Brent Blevins, managing director of Stifel, the district’s public finance brokerage firm. Blevins reiterated what he told members of the task force in September, that issuing a $220 million bond that extends the tax levy without raising taxes is an “ultra-conservative approach” given the district’s high AA credit rating from Standard & Poor’s. Based on state laws allowing the district to borrow up to 15 percent of its assessed property valuation and state-assessed railroads and utilities, SPS could ask voters to approve a nearly $329 million bond, according to data provided to the task force in August. 

The ask that is on the table won’t max out the district’s credit cards, Blevins said, and the district will be able to pay it off in 20 years, he said, based on conservative growth projections. 

With the current 73-cent debt levy, Blevins said assessed property values would need to increase by 9.9 percent over the next two decades to pay off the debt. In the past two years, it has grown by nearly 12 percent, he said. In the past 20 years, it’s grown by nearly 80 percent. 

The board is expected to take a look at proposed bond issue language during the November meeting and vote in December on language that voters will read on their ballots in April.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson