Levy Measure

School board brings historic facilities plan to the voters
Posted on 01/20/2014

“Our kids. Our community. Our future,” read the signs held up by several supportive citizens in attendance before a long-sought resolution was passed to place the R-I school district’s facilities master plan on the ballot.

Poplar Bluff Board of Education Vice President Gary Simmons made the motion to approve the ballot language, which was seconded by member Dr. Matt Riffle and met with unanimous approval during the monthly meeting on Thursday in the Administrative Building.

At the municipal election on Tuesday, April 8, the voting public will have the opportunity to approve the blueprint designed by local leaders and professional education planners to address space issues at all school facilities plus greatly improve the safety and security of students.

“I’m so appreciative of the folks who helped throughout the two and a half years, the 65 committee members who engaged in the process, and the school board who saw this plan evolve into something that addresses our present and future needs as we prepare this community for the growth it’s poised to see,” R-I Superintendent Chris Hon stated. “The completion of this plan is based on three components: creating additional space to stay ahead of enrollment increases, creating space more optimal for learning, and providing a safer environment for our students.”

The $49.6 million in renovations would be paid for with an 80 cents per $100 of assessed valuation operating levy increase through lease purchase financing, raising the ceiling to $3.73, which—according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education—is still lower than Sikeston, Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Farmington, even though the Poplar Bluff School District has the largest student body of them all.

“Several years ago our community came together to make the Highway 67 four-lane project a reality and now we have experienced tremendous growth as a result of it,” said Greater Poplar Bluff Area Chamber of Commerce President Steve Halter, who served on the school’s Long-Range Planning Committee. “If you look around our community you see new businesses, infrastructure improvements, new health care facilities and new buildings at Three Rivers College. I believe it is time to see Poplar Bluff R-I schools take the next step to grow along with our community.”

Halter continued: “Although my youngest child [Steven] only has one more year left at PBHS, I would like to see major improvements for future children attending our schools and potentially my grandchildren.”

The anchor of the plan, which would be completed by fall of 2016, includes moving the Senior High to the current 5th & 6th Grade Center building so high schoolers can share the school’s 80-acre site with the neighboring Technical Career Center. A major addition to the center will feature science, technology, engineering and math classrooms, plus a new athletic stadium will be added to the campus.

“We have an award-winning band that practices at other schools because our facilities do not support the programs we currently have in place, let alone the programs that are going to benefit these kids going forward,” commented Mike Kiehne, Senior High principal. “We’ve proven to be good stewards of what we have. If we keep up that same effort in a state-of-the-art facility, what will we be able to do then? Provide endless possibilities for our graduates.”

Grades five and six will move to the present Senior High, along with the fourth grade, which will be removed from the current elementary grade configuration, eliminating the need to make significant changes to the neighborhood schools. A STEM wing and grand entrance will be constructed on the front of the new intermediate school for grades four through six, connecting A, B and D buildings.

The parking lot and playgrounds at Eugene Field and Oak Grove will be swapped on the opposite ends of each elementary school, and the separate classroom structures at O’Neal and Lake Road will be connected.

A safe room paid with a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be added onto the Junior High building, allowing for an expanded cafeteria, restrooms and more classroom space.

Previous considerations included building a high school on a brand new site, however, purchasing the necessary acreage proved to be too costly for the school’s bonding capacity. Keeping the high school students at the Victory Lane location and simply renovating was also explored, but it was determined due to land lock that this would entail acquiring Beacon Memorial Park, which was not permitted in the park’s deed to the Kiwanis Club of Poplar Bluff.

Phase two of the long-range plan seven to 10 years down the road includes moving the Early Childhood Center to the Kindergarten Center on PP Highway, and potentially relocating the Graduation Center from the George R. Loughead Learning Center to the Mark Twain School on Main Street. However, phase two is only penciled in and would require a future vote, plus it should be noted that—according to planners—a long-range plan is a living document that can be revisited as needs arise.

“A vital Poplar Bluff School District creates a community for a quality family life and where new jobs will be created by companies who want to relocate,” said Chief Executive Officer Dennis Young of Ittner Architects, who facilitated the long-range plan. “The master plan is that process that will bring about the community we want.”

After a demographics study by Business Information Services in May of 2012 projected that R-I enrollment will increase by several hundred students over the next decade, a 16-person Long-Range Planning Committee of administrators, board members and community leaders was assembled. In partnership with Educational Consulting Services of Lincoln, Neb., and local architectural firm Dille & Traxel, Ittner of St. Louis was charged a year ago with devising a master plan that supersedes any single board or administration. A Citizens’ Advisory Council of about 50 patrons representing a cross-section of the school’s service area met multiple times beginning in June to come up with a recommendation for the board.

During the December board meeting, R-I Assistant Superintendent of Business/Finance Rod Priest revealed a facility plan from 1994 in which R-I officials at the time proposed moving the high school to the Technical Career Center property on Oak Grove Road. According to old board minutes, school officials determined bonding capacity was not high enough to build new even with a majority vote, so they constructed the smaller 5th & 6th Grade Center there with room to add on. Utilizing existing infrastructure and property, plus having a much higher assessed valuation in Butler County due to progress, makes the plan the most cost-effective option today, Priest said.

“Do we let the same thing happen that happened 20 years ago, or go forward,” Simmons asked. Board President Steve Sells replied, “I say we go forward.”


Cutline: [From left] PBHS Class of 2010 graduate Mitch Davis; and Brian Taylor, Steve Halter, Dr. Martha Kirkman and Christy Pierce of the Long-Range Planning Committee, hold up signs supporting the Board of Education before a unanimous decision was made to bring the facilities master plan to the voters in April.

Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2022 Intrado Corporation. All rights reserved.