West Branch school leaders ponder what now after second bond failure

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WEST BRANCH, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- While a number of eastern Iowa school districts had good luck with the voters at the polls Tuesday it could be back to the drawing board for West Branch.

The West Branch middle school on Wednesday. The bond vote that failed Tuesday called for tearing this building down and building a new middle school wing attached to the high school.

That school district's plan for a $20-million dollar expansion failed for the second time in six months with only 53 percent of voters in that Cedar County community approving. The original bond vote, on largerly the same same proposal, drew 56 percent support in February. Bond votes take a 60 percent supermajority to pass.

Kevin Hatfield, West Branch Superintendent, says the board, with two newly-elected members, will meet next week and the what-do-we-do-next question is bound to come up.

Hatfield says he isn't sure if school leaders will want to wait a while, try again as soon as possible or perhaps present voters with a new plan.

The bond plan in West Branch called for shrinking the district from three buildings to just two.

Middle schoolers don't have a cafeteria or gym and walk each day to the next door elementary building. They also ride buses daily to the high school for some classes.

The plan called for a new wing at the high school for grades 6-8 and demolition of the existing middle school for more parking and an expanded elementary.

Despite two losses, Hatfield says school leaders still think the plan gives the community what it wants in school improvements.

"Sometimes people just accept that these changes have to be made but they don't want it to impact their pocketbook. So we have to take a look at that," he said.

Hatfield says one idea the board might discuss in the coming months is breaking the $20-million dollar proposal into small chunks spread out over more time.

For instance, doubling the size of the high school auditorium could be done for perhaps $7-$8-million dollars as a stand alone project.. But the total price tag for spreading out construction would be higher.

Still, some voters in West Branch on Wednesday say that might win more support.

Anita Starr was one of those voters.

"I think it's too much at one time. Too many things," she said.

Another voter, Mary Colleen, also advised against trying the same basic plan for a third time without changes.

"I think something will have to change because it isn't going to pass unless they do something," she said.

Legally, the school board in West Branch could try another bond vote as soon as next spring. Or they could take more time to either tweak the plan or come up with a new plan.