Paring the SLHS project

The Storm Lake School District was dealt a stunning blow when bids for the high school renovation project came in nearly $2.5 million over the $17 million budget. The school board has little choice but to order the architect and apparent low bidder, Baldus Construction of Carroll, to pare the project to fit the budget. Soliciting a new round of bids will bring delay to an urgent need and will not guarantee more or lower bids. Only two bids were received last week.

Some “extras” might be lost. They are hidden in every public project. The planners will say the design is lean as can be, but smart planners put in a cushion. They do not normally put in a 15% cushion. That suggests that real needs, such as classroom space, will be sacrificed.

The easiest thing to do is dump the plan for an auditorium. That could save at least $5 million. Project saved.

That also would be the wrong thing to do. The school board led with the auditorium throughout the entire planning process and in its appeal to voters. The public referenda that approved the project came with the understanding that this was first a plan to build an auditorium and second a plan to revitalize the rest of the high school.

We also could dumb down the look of the building. Make it look like your average men’s reformatory. No doubt that would be cheaper.

But the design of the west entrance to the building is exciting. It speaks well of an education system positioning itself for the future. It speaks to a dynamic community.

Go with the exterior design. Do not cut back.

Other items in the project might have to vanish or wait for another day.

That’s especially difficult as enrollment continues to grow rapidly in the elementary school and middle school. They are running out of room. The high school is next.

These obstacles will be overcome by using our existing community facilities more adroitly.

The school board would do well to contemplate South School in its future. It has plenty of room and is flexible to a variety of uses. It has a gym, it has classrooms and other facilities that will be handy in a pinch.

Iowa Central Community College is annexed to the high school. The Area Education Agency building across the street to the south also is sizable and flexible.

The bids coming in higher than expected takes the wind out of one’s sails momentarily. But realizing the community assets at hand, the school board and administration will with smart planning work out of this jam. And the renovated high school with a new performing arts center will be a gem for $17 million.

First amnesty, now security

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, finally acknowledged last week that the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform does not present “amnesty.” In fact, immigrants who came into the nation illegally would have to pay a fine and, after 13 years, be eligible for citizenship. That never was amnesty, but Grassley kept barking that it was just like 1986, our last stab at immigration. It isn’t.

Grassley now leans on the second straw horse of border security. We have fencing, drones and increased patrols along the border thanks to the Obama Administration. Migration between Mexico and the United States has reversed over the past two years so that more Mexicans are moving to Mexico from the US than the other way around. (We’re not sure about Canadian migration.)

Just to put suspenders with the belt, the Senate bill threw in another $30 billion for border security. The number of border agents would double.

Grassley wants more. He wants a guarantee that nobody can make it through. We would like a guarantee that nobody will rob a bank. It happens, even with the best security.

The Senate bill already passed. Grassley’s language would be moot were he not the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a likely conferee on a compromise bill in the unlikely event that the House passes an immigration reform package.

Grassley tried to sound reasonable in front of Storm Lake High School student leaders last week, some of whom could be the sons or daughters of undocumented immigrants. Leaning on border security is a thin straw indeed. The border is secure as it ever will be. The students, smart as they are, might have a nose for the disingenuous remark from a politician playing to his base.