Ozark voters will consider a $26.5 million bond issue on April 7, that if approved, will turn a former manufacturing plant into what would amount to an extension of the Ozark High School campus.
The bond issue has no tax levy increase attached to it, and school administrators say the additional bonding would generate funds needed to renovate what is now called the Ozark Innovation Center. The Innovation Center would be part of Ozark High School, and is located at 1600 West Jackson Street, which longtime Ozark residents know as the former FASCO plant.
The Ozark Board of Education voted Jan. 9 to take the issue to voters, after gathering information from residents of the school district for more than a year.
“I feel like we really did a pretty thorough job of really seeking input, so even though we kind of have this unique pathway to move forward in dealing with the growth in Ozark, I do feel like it is in line with what our community was asking us to do,” Ozark School District Superintendent Chris Bauman said.
Dr. Bauman said the plan will solve crowding problems at the four elementary schools, and allow Ozark to plan for growth in the future. The Innovation Center will be able to grow and add classes and students, as will Ozark High School.
“This bond really does impact all of our student pre-K-through-12, because we’re really going to be able to address all of the issues moving through,” Bauman said.
Bauman said the new plan compliments a previous long range plan that the Ozark School District used to shift some classes out of the elementary schools and invest more in building upper level schools. It may seem like a reversal, Bauman said, but it’s more than that.
“We needed space at the high school so we added on to our elementaries and kind of shifted the grade levels down, now we need space at the elementaries, so we’re adding on to the high school,” Bauman said. “By shifting the educational philosophy, by looking at how our students will progress through Ozark as an institution, what we’re able to do is to take space that’s available to us […], we’re going to be able to move the 450 students that we need to move.”
The Ozark Board of Education and the administration have been working on the first phase of the district's long range plan — Operation Renovate and Innovate — since it was approved in March 2019. The Ozark School District bought part of the old FASCO plant in July 2019, at a cost of about $4.1 million. The former manufacturing site is being renovated to house about 450 high school students at any given time.
The estimated completion date is August, 2022. Grades will shift for the 2022-23 school year with the four elementary buildings becoming kindergarten through fourth grade; fifth and sixth grades at Ozark Middle School; seventh and eighth grades at Ozark Junior High; and ninth grade moving to the high school.
The second high school campus will house mathematics, business, science and arts classes, along with some specialty programs like interior design, fashion, culinary arts, woodworking, construction, drafting, digital media and more.
The new grade configuration is designed to relieve crowding at Ozark’s four elementary schools, North, South, East and West. Mobile classrooms can be spotted on most of the campuses this year.
“Our class sizes at the elementary level are starting to get larger,” Bauman said. “We only want our classrooms to grow to certain sizes. We only want our buildings to grow to certain sizes. We don’t want to have mobile units sitting around.”
But kids don’t stay in elementary school forever. They eventually move to the middle school, the junior high and then the high school.
“Obviously, as those grades go up, those kids continue to move up.”
New intermediate and secondary schools carry heftier price tags. Bauman estimates a middle school or junior high would cost $60-70 million to build new, and a new high school with the amenities that go with it would cost about $160 million.
By contrast, a new elementary school would cost about $30 million, on the low end. The day Ozark builds a fifth elementary school is coming, but not with this 2020 bond issue.
“One of the options was to build a new elementary, and we could have done that,” Bauman said.
The Ozark School District already owns land that will likely be home to an elementary school one day. The $30 million estimated price tag would have likely meant that Ozark Board of Education would have asked voters to increase the amount of personal property tax they pay to the school district in order to offset the cost of building a new school.
Instead, the board of education looked at maxing out its bonding under the current capacity without raising the tax levy. Bauman said it made more sense to reconfigure grades in the upper schools because of the projected growth in Ozark’s population, and the student age groups in which the growth is taking place.
“That growth continues to happen. Older kids may potentially move in. As you get more expensive homes coming in, those usually are families that are in different stages in life, so maybe their kids are a little bit older,” Bauman said.
The bond issue up for consideration in April would also fund expansion of the Tiger Paw Early Childhood Center.
Editor’s note: We will share more from our conversation with Dr. Bauman with additional information on the Ozark School District bond issue in an upcoming edition of the Christian County Headliner News.
Ozark School District April 2020 bond issue ballot language
Shall Ozark R-VI School District issue its general obligation bonds in the amount of $26,500,000 for the purpose of acquiring, constructing, improving, repairing, renovating, furnishing and equipping school sites and facilities, including renovating the Ozark Innovation Center, remodeling and repurposing the District Office for early childhood learning and acquiring property currently leased by the District?
If this question is approved, the District’s debt service property tax levy is estimated to remain unchanged at $0.88 per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation of real and personal property.