School of the Osage District voters will be asked in April to approve a $23 million bond issue to upgrade facilities at all four buildings -- and build a new, innovative Early Childhood Center on the Heritage Campus in Lake Ozark.

Moving toward a $23 million bond issue in April, the School of the Osage Board of Education voted recently to refinance more than $9 million in existing debt at a significant savings to the school district.

The decision to refinance the Heritage Building renovation bonds will save the district about $132,000 in interest over the next 17 years at a significantly lower interest rate. Joe Kinder of George K. Baum & Co. investment bankers of Kansas City told the board that the interest rate will drop from 4.9 percent net to 2.9 percent net.

The motion, approved unanimously, was to sell $9,075,000 of general obligation school refunding bonds.

From an historical perspective, Kinder said, in 2007 before the recession school districts could borrow money for just one year at a rate of 3.9 percent. Today, School of the Osage is borrowing money for 17 years at 2.9 percent.

"So, to go out 17 years and get such a good rate, it's a nice way to go ahead and lock in some really low interest costs as you look at future facilities plans," he said.

The other good news Kinder shared with the board is that Standard & Poor's Financial Services has given the school district an AA- bond rating, which he called "fantastic." Fewer than 5 percent of districts have a higher rating, he said.

He said the rating is based on an evaluation of economic factors, indicators in the community and the management of the district by the board and administration. The S&P rating came after Superintendent Dr. Brent Depeé was interviewed by S&P officials for about an hour.

"You should feel good about that," he said.

AAA is the highest rating available, and only a few districts in the state qualify.

"You're going to save three times what the state requires and be able to position yourselves to address facilities needs with lowest possible tax rate from a bricks and mortar perspective," he said.

Facilities plan

School of the Osage District voters will be asked in April to approve a $23 million bond issue to upgrade facilities at all four buildings -- and build a new, innovative Early Childhood Center on the Heritage Campus in Lake Ozark. The center would be located at the former location of Mills Elementary which was demolished several years ago when the Heritage Building was renovated.

The Early Childhood Center, estimated in size at 11,700 square feet, is the core of the proposed bond issue at roughly $5 million.

Designers from Sapp Design Architects of Springfield have been working with school officials for several months to identify needs, and design facility changes to accommodate those needs.

The largest piece of the facilities plan is the Early Childhood Center.

"In the district's first Strategic Plan, we had Pre-K Readiness as one of our needs and that was five years ago," Depeé told the board in October. "We had 50 preschoolers and two classrooms then. Five years later, we have five classrooms and 100 preschoolers and we're turning applicants down because we don't have the room at Heritage."

There are students in the area being underserved, he noted, and there are no empty classrooms at Heritage as the district has grown in recent years.

He anticipates more growth within the district as residential areas near Fish Haven Road and Rt. 242 develop.

What's ahead

The plan the board of education approved is strongly focused on:

•Safety

•Early education to prepare students for the future

•Improvement for 21st century learning

•Protecting current opportunities for kids

A snapshot of what's planned includes: 

Heritage Campus

•Enlarge the playground

•Add a service elevator

•Construct an Early Childhood Center

Upper Elementary Campus

•Improve traffic flow and address parking lot drainage issues.

•Provide safety enhancements to building entrance to match other district buildings.

•Renovate the kitchen.

•Evaluate possibly moving current Information Technology offices. 

Middle School

•Eliminate drainage issues in front of building.

•Create natural turf competition soccer facility behind Middle School to include a field house, bleachers, lighting and parking.

•Create multi-purpose practice area adjacent to soccer field.

High School

•Renovate existing field house at athletic field and build new field house to include new locker rooms, new public restroom facilities, a new alternative school and new community room. The facility would provide emergency storm shelter for athletes and patrons.

•Revamp entryway into campus from Highway 42 to recirculate traffic flow to improve safety and to separate bus traffic from pickup and drop-off of high school and upper elementary students. Bus traffic would be re-routed to enter and leave through gated area near the athletic field.

•Renovate Cummings Auditorium to improve audio-visual quality, to create a double entrance into the auditorium to reduce interference from outside light and sound and to make the auditorium ADA compliant.

•Convert existing band room to vocal music practice facility.

•Convert existing shop and art rooms into band room.

•Add new construction for shop, art, Computer Assisted Design (CAD) and technology areas.