Ola School renovations

Demolition on portions of the foundation and other aspects of the Ola School are underway as the renovation of the historic school moves into Phase 1. 

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While a confirmation of funding remains in the hands of the Idaho Legislature, the Emmett Schools Board of Trustees last week approved a plan to expend its share of funds included in the recently passed federal COVID related legislation. Two major projects that could free up space and ease some of the critical plant facility maintenance needs for the district were approved for Superintendent Craig Woods to move forward with.

At the top of the list is the authorization to complete Phase 2 of the Ola renovation. Phase 1 is currently underway for the historic two-room school. The second project would acquire a new home for the District Offices and provide space for an expansion of classrooms at Butte View Elementary.

These projects have been approved by the Idaho State Department of Education and would be part of Idaho’s distribution from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER 2 Fund).

When the Idaho Legislature reconvenes this week it will have a host of issues to clear up. In addition to approving the ESSER 2 expenditures, the allocation of an estimated $1.89 billion of discretionary funds and approval of another $981 million directed to K12 and child care grants face lawmakers. Those funds are all allocated to Idaho from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and have been tentatively appropriated by Governor Brad Little, pending Legislative approval.

City and county governments may get a $576 million share of the $1.89 billion but just what will qualify as an eligible project and how much each city or county will received remains undefined.

The school money Emmett hopes to tap, however, is separate from the ARPA funds. The ESSER 2 funds, totalling $54.3 billion nationally, was signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020.

Emmett has vetted its two major projects through the State Department of Education and have been given the conditional authorization from the ESD Trustees at their special meeting on March 30.

Phase 2 Ola Renovation

This would provide use of up to $400,000 in ESSER 2 funds to complete Phase 2 of the Ola renovation.

Superintendent Woods reviewed the overall cost for Phase 1. Now that bids have been submitted and needs identified, the Phase 1 cost has increased from $650,000 to $718,000. The Save Our School Committee has also raised $320,000 to help cover the costs.

Shannon Miller, who is among the leaders of the SOS Committee, called the action of the ESD Board “exciting news.”

“It has been a long process and a lot of work to get us in position to see the potential completion of this restoration,” Miller said. “It seems like we have been fighting for the survival of this historic school since 1969 and now to see the physical restoration of perhaps the last two-room school in the state nearing reality is hopeful.”

Wood confirmed to the Messenger Index that if the Legislature does approve sufficient ESSER 2 funds to complete the Ola project, money originally targeted for Ola in the proposed Bond package would be redirected. Should those funds not be made available, the Ola project would be returned to the priority list within the Bond.

New District Office Complex

Trustees approved Woods’ recommendation to purchase the office building at 119 N. Wardwell Ave., for the new home of the District staff. Currently district office staff, including Superintendent Woods occupy the library and two classrooms at Butte View Elementary. Plans are to complete the move in time for new teachers being approved for expanded classrooms at Butte View to prepare their classrooms before fall.

Woods told the board the designated office building provides enough space to house the district level staff members and provide much needed private office space for confidential and sensitive matters. It would also provide a better work environment to minimize interruptions. Currently, only Woods and the Special Education Director have private offices. There’s also ample space for storage and some meeting space.

There’s also space for newly appointed Emmett Remote Academy Director Wade Carter, who will oversee the alternative online education program for students with the expectation to grow the student population, even reaching students valley wide, Woods said. There would also be a space to test students.

The 5,500-square-foot office building would be purchased for $490,000. Now the district is waiting for the Legislature to release those funds and the completion of property appraisal.

Woods told the trustees that the price is very reasonable, breaking down to $89 per square foot and the building is pretty much turn-key ready for move in. He also emphasized that it will not use general fund dollars or supplemental levy funds, but rather only the unencumbered federal funds.

Woods emphasized that both projects, while being fully planned for, are officially tentative.

“Both approvals by the board were worded as contingent on the release of these funds by the State.” Woods said. “If the Legislature does not release the anticipated funds I do not have spending authority for either project. There really is no pivot. We would not be obligated to the building and I would not move forward with Phase 2 of Ola at this time.”

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