G-R hosts master planning ‘listening session’ in Gladbrook

Using colored stickers, members of the public work to rank the priority of short term infrastructure projects proposed by the G-R school board during a listening session held in Gladbrook last Thursday, Feb. 1. Addressing the HVAC needs of the elementary school received the most support. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

GLADBROOK – After voters in the Gladbrook-Reinbeck school district firmly said ‘no’ in September 2022 to a $23.6 million bond referendum that would have addressed much needed facility upgrades, the district has switched up its approach to master planning by enlisting the services of a single design-build company and holding a pair of “listening sessions.”

Last Thursday, Feb. 1, at the Gladbrook Theatre, the district held the second of two evening sessions – the first was held the evening before in Reinbeck – during which short-term facility master planning was discussed.

Roughly a dozen members of the public from both Gladbrook and Reinbeck attended the session which was led by SitelogIQ community engagement specialist Dan Rooney with intermittent assistance from G-R Superintendent Caleb Bonjour.

G-R’s school board enlisted the services of SitelogIQ – a design-build company – early last year prior to Bonjour taking over as superintendent from Erik Smith.

During the 2022 failed bond referendum the district contracted with a trio of firms — firms it is no longer using– as part of its facility study including Donovan Group which bills itself as an “award winning, national leader in school district communication.”

Dan Rooney with the design-build firm SitelogIQ speaks to the audience during Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s second master planning listening session held in the Gladbrook Theatre on Feb. 1. The first was held the evening prior in Reinbeck. About a dozen people attended each session. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

In addition to community engagement and public relations, SitelogIQ also provides in-house design-build services including pre-construction assessments and architectural design.

Rooney kicked things off by telling the audience – peppered in pockets of one or two people throughout the spacious small town theater – that he was there largely to be a “liaison” between the school board and the community.

“The board has heard loud and clear,” Rooney said as he stood at the front of the space, “the community largely feels there was not nearly enough communication the last time there was a bond referendum … they’re well aware of it.”

He then asked the audience to take turns sharing their name, their favorite smell, and one word to describe how they were feeling coming into the listening session.

Words used to describe the session included ‘concern,’ ‘interested,’ ‘impacted,’ and even ‘animosity towards this whole deal.’

Colored stickers are used to indicate which SAVE projects members of the public prefer during a listening session hosted by Gladbrook-Reinbeck on Feb. 1 in Gladbrook. About a dozen people attended the two-and-half-hour session. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

After providing a quick lesson on school finance, Rooney stated that while “the school board has not made any decisions” regarding a possible bond referendum, they have decided they must do something to address the deteriorating infrastructure needs of both the elementary and secondary buildings in Reinbeck – and quickly due to inflation.

Short term planning

In the short term, Rooney said the district would like to use SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education) revenue to address infrastructure needs at the elementary school.

SAVE is funded by the one cent statewide sales tax and is divided up annually by the state among all the public school districts. Funds from SAVE can be used for either school infrastructure needs like building improvement projects or for property tax relief.

Currently, G-R has over $1 million in SAVE funds in reserve.

Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District Superintendent Caleb Bonjour smiles as he answers a question while seated in the back row of the Gladbrook Theatre during a master planning listening session held on Feb. 1. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

The district can also use board authority to borrow against future SAVE earnings which would amount to another $6.5-7 million, Rooney said.

Using SAVE does not increase property taxes.

The board is considering using SAVE at the elementary only because the building is newer, has fewer issues, and Rooney said “it’s better bang for your buck.”

Rooney then opened the floor to audience participation, asking if anyone had thoughts on using SAVE in this way but very little was volunteered.

He subsequently moved on to detail the good and the bad in terms of infrastructure at the elementary school – something that was previously reported on by the Sun Courier following a series of town halls the district held last fall.

Potential SAVE projects the board is considering at the elementary include addressing its HVAC issues including the lack of air conditioning/flow; secure entry; preschool additions at both Crayon Corner and Reinbeck Elementary to address increasing numbers; and ADA compliance including upgrading restrooms.

After working in small groups for about 10 minutes, the public was then given a set of three stickers of different colors and asked to rate the projects in order of priority — red stickers being the most important followed by yellow and then green.

Addressing HVAC issues received the most support by far, followed by secure entry and ADA compliance; preschool additions received zero stickers.

Community survey

Also during the meeting, Rooney presented the results of a community survey his firm conducted last fall.

The survey received 331 responses – about 13% of the school district community, he said; 213 from Reinbeck, 85 from Gladbrook, and the rest from outside the two towns.

The survey asked how people voted during the September bond referendum – about half of the respondents voted yes and about half said they voted no.

The survey also asked respondents to rate the necessity for facility improvements – about 75% said it was important or very important to address the needs.

Task force

Prior to the more than two hour meeting’s end, Rooney invited those in the audience to become a member of G-R’s master planning task force which is set to meet on five nights including Feb. 22 and 29, March 7 and 27, and April 3.

The task force will delve further into SitelogIQ’s engineering reports, tour the district’s facilities, learn more about the district’s finances, consider potential construction options, and then present feedback to the school board sometime after April 3.

“You are all welcome to come,” Rooney said, while Bonjour added, “Anybody that wants to be at the table, is at the table.”


The floor was then turned over to Bonjour to answer questions from the audience.

The subject of district savings as a result of closing and then demolishing the Gladbrook building was brought up.

While Bonjour was unable to explain the $400,000 annual savings that was quoted by the school board at the time – according to the audience member – he did respond in part: “What I can say, throughout the years, our SAVE fund has grown quite a bit … we have about $1.8 million [saved].”

He added that the district’s nutrition fund is also robust and “fairly self sufficient,” while the PPEL fund is “healthy” and “right around a half million.”

Unable to come up with an answer to the mystery $400,000, Bonjour said he would work to learn more before adding that falling enrollment has had an effect on the district’s general fund in the years since the Gladbrook closure.

“We can’t go back and rewrite what was done.”

Discussion also centered around SitelogIQ and how much the district was paying the new firm.

“There is no up front cost to the district,” Bonjour said.

“We get money should a referendum pass,” Rooney said. “And should a referendum pass, then we’re paid back for all the work that we’re doing now. … We take on that risk.”

SitelogIQ’s fee is 18.75% and would be paid using revenue generated by the passage of a bond referendum to address infrastructure needs at the secondary school.

Gladbrook Mayor Trudi Scott then asked about the timeline for both using SAVE funds at the elementary and a possible bond referendum for the secondary.

As soon as the board decides what to do at the elementary school with SAVE revenue they can take action, Bonjour said, which would include holding a public hearing that could be challenged by petition.

If challenged, the board would have to hold a special election in November of this year in order to proceed.

If it is not challenged, the board can go about selling bonds almost immediately.

“We could potentially break ground in the spring of 2025,” Bonjour said.

After further discussion, Bonjour said a second bond referendum to address the secondary school’s issues would need to be a two-part ballot measure in either March or November of 2025.