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Capital project is put on hold for rest of year

The uncertain economy and a need for more public knowledge will put a planned capital project at Grand Island schools on hold for this school year.
Superintendent Robert Christmann and a majority of School Board members said at a meeting Monday that the potential impact of the economic slowdown on the district's future budgets and state financial aid, along with bond rates, was too great to pitch a multi-building renovation and reconfiguration project to the public.

Christmann suggested Monday that the board aim for approving plans on the project by spring or early summer of this school year and put it up for referendum in the fall of 2009. The board had originally hoped to vote in December and hold a referendum in February of 2009.

"This project addresses needs that aren't going to go away, needs that are going to be magnified as we go on, and we know that," Christmann said. "But we need to slow things down a little bit and get the community more assured about where we're going to be."

The capital project, for which planning began at least a year ago, would convert Sidway Elementary School into a districtwide school for pupils in prekindergarten programs through the second grade, while moving third- through fifth-grade classes into Huth Road and Kaegebein elementary schools.

Other plans have the district offices and consolidated bus garage moving near Sidway, adding athletic fields and a foyer area to the middle and high schools, and synchronizing the middle and high school bus schedules.

While no cost estimates have been presented, board member David Goris said he didn't feel the public has enough information "to understand the scope of the project."

"With the longer timeline, I think we can spend quality time making sure people know everything they need to know about what the project is, and what it plans to do," Goris said.

"Ultimately, this is a lot of money we're talking about here," said board member Thomas Franz, "and it's best to talk this out a bit more."

Board members had signaled an uneasiness about the economic realities of the project earlier this month, when they agreed to Christmann's suggestion to scale back portions of the project involving universal prekindergarten programs and a bus depot.

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