NEOSHO, Mo. — While some details remain to be worked out, the Neosho Board of Education agreed Monday to pursue up to $22 million in funding for a variety of capital improvements, including a performing arts center, field house, locker room upgrades and safe rooms at Benton Elementary and Neosho Middle School.

That funding plan would require an increase to the school district's tax levy, which is currently $3.35 per $100 assessed valuation. Board members on Wednesday will hold a special meeting to clarify funding details, ballot language and the amount of the proposed tax increase.

The project started in May of last year as a plan to build only the safe rooms, but meetings with the community about district resources encouraged the board to expand its plan.

"These are things our patrons are asking for, so why wait?" board President Stuart Puckett said. "We have an auditorium that seats only 320, and that's smaller than one (grade of students) at the high school. Our field house was built in the '50s, with no major renovations since then. It's time to make an investment for our district."

In an almost four-hour meeting, board members reviewed design possibilities for the buildings, then heard from two underwriting firms making pitches to handle the financing for the projects.

About the projects

The performing arts center is the biggest item in the package of upgrades. John McNabb, an architect with Sapp Design Associates, presented a plan to build the arts center on the northern end of the high school. With seating for 1,500, as well as new classrooms, rehearsal spaces and workshops for band, choir and theater classes, the project carried estimated costs as high as almost $13.4 million.

Board members thought that the addition of requested features could push the price tag up higher.

"Whatever we ask for, we want enough to do it right," said board member Dan Haskins during the work session.

Safe rooms to be built on the north corner of Benton Elementary and on the southwest corner of the middle school carry estimated price tags of about $2 million each.

Kirsten Whitehead, of Paragon Architecture, detailed designs for a field house for indoor training. The location of the field house, hoped to be large enough for a 50-yard-by-50-yard field plus end zone, could be built in two different places, but each one carries challenges.

Building in a location between the football field and high school could carry a higher estimated cost of around $3.1 million because construction would be on a hill. Building on the flat ground of a baseball field north of the football field would have a price tag of about $2 million, but would require upgrading the district's softball complex at an additional cost.

All of the designs are preliminary, and can still be changed. The board during its Jan. 21 meeting will interview four construction firms and select a construction manager for the project.

Ballot language to be finalized

During the work session, board members expressed a consensus for a lease-purchase option over a general obligation bond. Such an option would lead to the district also asking voters for a Prop C rollback, a legal provision in Missouri that allows a district to waive a sales tax rollback associated with a law passed in the 1980s.

Superintendent Jim Cummins said asking voters for a Prop C waiver would allow the district to raise the district's operating levy to its ceiling of $2.89. The district levy is currently set at $3.35 per $100 of assessed valuation — $2.65 of that is for operations, and 60 cents is for debt service. The owner of a $100,000 house pays $636.50 annually in school taxes.

Board members during Wednesday's meeting will also determine how much extra in the tax levy to ask for, and set the ballot language accordingly. The two underwriters who spoke during Monday's meeting discussed ranges of 19 cents to 35 cents.

Cummins said during the meeting that whatever number board members pick, they should be prepared to dip into reserves to make up small differences in costs. Naming rights could also help the district with financing the project.

After the meeting, Cummins said that the project grew from just safe rooms to a way to increase the overall quality of the district. Better facilities will help retain good personnel, he said, and some of their facilities are lagging behind what other districts have.

"We started out looking at safe rooms, but then we met with people in the community about athletic facility needs, and another group of leaders about what we need to do to recruit the kind of talent we need," Cummins said. "The best thing we can do for a student is put a quality person in front of them. ...Our folks have done a great job building Carver, the junior high and Goodman, and we think this is the next step to make Neosho a district of choice."

Follow Digital Editor Joe Hadsall on Twitter at @JoeHadsall.

Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.

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