O’NEILL, NE — The modular classrooms next to O’Neill Jr/Sr High were supposed to be temporary when they were installed in the 90s. Decades later, they’re finally getting the boot.
The O’Neill School Board voted 4-2 to approve a nearly $13.3 million facility upgrade on Monday that ditches the modulars for three new science rooms and seven junior high classrooms. Superintendent Amy Shane says the new classrooms will improve student safety.
“Certainly ice, snow, weather, and just in general school safety – to have students in and out of the building that many times in a day is not a good situation,” Shane said.
The building improvements will also move the Center for Teaching and Learning to the complex, add a junior high commons, high school administration offices, a band room and include a brand new 1,485-seat gymnasium.
“Our students have always been great about making due with what they had and making the best out of things,” Shane said. “I’m just very happy for them that we’re going to have something new for them.”
But not everyone in O’Neill is happy about the building project. The high price tag means the school district will raise their property tax levy by about five cents at a time when farmers and ranchers are already struggling financially.
“There comes a point that we are putting too much burden on the landowner and we can’t do it,” farmer Nicki Dougherty said. “It’s actually causing problems bringing children back and getting people onto the farm because it’s getting too expensive.”
There were several like Dougherty who spoke against the multimillion dollar lease-purchase agreement at two public school board meetings in the past two weeks.
The public pressure was likely one factor in driving the original building plans down from over $18 million to $13.3 million. After failing to get a majority in favor of a plan after the first four-hour meeting, the Board called a second special meeting. 2 1/2 hours later they reached a compromise.
Shane, who advises the Board but doesn’t have a vote, is grateful for their efforts.
“I hope everybody feels like what the Board did was sufficient but not overstepping what really needed to be done,” Shane said.
Shane says the District hopes to break ground on the science rooms in late spring with the entire project being done by December of 2020.