WAUSA, Neb. — The Wausa, Nebraska, school facilities are about to receive a major facelift, including replacement of a 105-year-old building.

By a 3-1 margin, Wausa school district voters approved a $3 million bond issue. The all-mail balloting ended Tuesday, with the bond issue passing 315-102, or 76 percent approval. The measure required a simple majority.

Superintendent Brad Hoesing said he was pleased with the decisive margin.

"On behalf of our staff and students, I am very grateful that the patrons of Wausa took action and approved our bond referendum," he told the Press & Dakotan." Our community has, time and again, worked hard to ensure that Wausa Public School will continue to thrive now and in the future."

The 417 returned ballots represent about 60 percent of the 691 ballots mailed to Wausa school patrons, according to figures from Knox County Clerk Joann Fischer.

The bond issue, along with available district funds, will finance the estimated $4.35 million project. The plans call for renovating and improving portions of the district’s existing K-12 school building and for constructing one or more additions to the school building.

The timetable calls for completing the work by fall 2022.

The bond issue means a home with a valuation of $100,000 will see a tax increase of $20 annually, according to figures from the school district. For ag land, the tax increase will vary for different valuations of dry and irrigated land.

From fire code and accessibility issues to the presence of bats, the Wausa school board determined the current facilities are unsafe and inadequate. The project includes replacing the 1913 structure and renovating other current facilities. The work will be completed in phases.

In addition, the Wausa Education Foundation agreed to fund the building of an industrial technology center, contingent on the bond passage. The total turnkey cost of the 105 feet-by-55 feet building stands at an estimated $492,000. The foundation allocated a maximum of $500,000 to build the center.

The Wausa school board, administration and teachers association sent an open letter to the voters following Tuesday’s election results.

"We are so fortunate to live in a community that continues to value education, holds high standards for our kids and staff, but backs that up and supports them in their mission of educating our students," the letter said.

The new and remodeled facilities will position Wausa well for the long-term future, Hoesing told the Press & Dakotan.

"Our enrollment has continued to stay steady throughout the years, and we have many young families returning home," he said. "We will now start work on a school that is ADA compliant (for accessibility), meets fire code, is free from bats and will help students for generations to come.

"In addition, the ITE/Ag building will directly aid in providing a needed workforce for our ag economy, which funds our school system."

In its letter to patrons, Wausa school officials acknowledged those who voted "no" in the bond referendum.

"We, as a board of education, administration, and staff, understand the reasons why you may have voted no. Be it the current agricultural economy, the wish for consolidation with other schools, or an additional tax burden, understand that our board is made up of primarily members of our agricultural community as well," the letter said.

"They understand the strain of a school district with an extremely low assessed valuation in comparison to our neighboring schools, and they work constantly to find ways to streamline costs while continuing to provide high levels of education to our students and community.

"As a district, we pledge to ensure that this money will not be spent unwisely, and that it will not only benefit Wausa in the present, but hopefully our students and community for generations to come."

The Wausa school board has discussed and planned the building project for the past two years.

The current discussions began in July 2016 after five northeast Nebraska school districts — including Wausa — decided not to pursue consolidation or similar arrangements, Hoesing said. The other districts included Bloomfield, Creighton, Osmond and Plainview.

Wausa patrons expressed opposition, or at least concerns, about any formal consolidation. The patrons spoke in favor of maintaining the district while remaining open to the sharing of staff and resources.

Given that direction, the Wausa board committed itself to upgrading the current facilities for the district’s long-term future, Hoesing said. The board undertook a series of public meetings to gain input on priorities.

Tuesday’s election results showed the public backed the building plan and bond issue, Hoesing said. Now, the task lies in making the new school facilities a reality, he added.

"As far as work is concerned, the board will meet this month to decide what construction process will best meet our needs," he said.

"Our community, in a poor agricultural economy, took a bold stand and allowed us to provide good facilities for our students and staff, and we need to take the time to ensure that the money is not wasted."

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