Five bond issues have failed at the polls in the past dozen years or so.
Considering the recent track record, Superintendent Ryan Huff presented the board with two options to consider -- one different and one very different.
In previous proposals, the focus has been on building a three-grade elementary school to start, then continue to replace buildings every few years until facilities have all been replaced.
In his "Building on the Past: Bridging to the Future" proposal, Huff's first option is similar to the earlier plans, although he proposed building one new elementary school that would house grades one through five, use Northwest Elementary School as the kindergarten center and demolition of Southeast, Eastwood and most of Benton schools.
Option 2 goes in a very different direction.
It would involve building a new high school -- possibly with a 900-1,000-seat performing arts center -- and converting the current high school into an elementary school for grades one through five.
Option 2 would also involve demolishing the 1920s-era buildings, except for a newer section of Benton. Huff listed pros and cons for each option.
Option 1 would cost less and be less complicated to implement, but it would not directly benefit as many people in the community, it has failed at the polls in recent years and would have less impact on economic development.
Option 2 would cost more -- possibly as much as $40 million -- and would be more complicated to achieve, but it would directly benefit more people and would have a greater impact on economic development, he said.
Within Option 2 there are two further options to consider -- whether to purchase land for the new high school or build it on the current high school campus.
Both have pros and cons, Huff said, but one thing he likes about Option 2 is the opportunity to allow curriculum to drive building design rather than having to fit curricular needs within existing spaces.
In both options, the Satellite School would be relocated to a newer section of Benton and its current building would be demolished. Fifth-grade classes would be moved out of Bueker Middle School, and the annex would be demolished.
When he heard the proposed fate of the annex at BMS, board member Wayne Crawford exclaimed, "God bless you."
In both options, all elementary classes would meet in a permanent building. There would be no more "trailer" classrooms.
The district has used a number of modular classrooms, commonly referred to as "the trailers," for several decades to relieve overcrowding.
The estimated cost of a new high school would be about $32 million, but adapting MHS to serve elementary school needs, rearranging of the sports complex and addition of Astroturf to the football field to enable it to be used by multiple sports and band activities brings the price tag to about $40 million.
Huff said it would be possible to wait six months to a year before demolishing any of the old buildings to see if anyone was interested in buying them to convert them to other uses.
Huff told the board he recommends pursuing Option 2, but he urged the board to postpone placing the issue on the ballot. The board had indicated interest in putting a bond issue on the April 2013 ballot.
The complex plan will take more time than that to properly develop, he said.
The price tag will likely be much higher than the district's bonding capacity, so Huff will propose the district consider a lease-purchase arrangement, which would require increasing the operating levy rather than seeking approval for a debt service levy.
Increasing the operating levy would only require a simple majority to pass, too. Bond issues require four-sevenths or two-thirds majorities, depending on the timing of the election.
The board took no action Tuesday. Huff urged the board to ponder the options and listen to feedback from the community before making a decision.
"Everything is open at this point," he said.
Huff concluded his presentation by offering a Chinese proverb: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."
The quote also applies to building schools, he said, noting that construction costs will continue to increase, making postponement an expensive proposition.
After the open meeting, the board convened in closed session to discuss real estate issues. No action was taken.
Board members Wayne Crawford, Larry Godsey, President Kathy Green, Douglas Koehn, Mike Mills, Sherrie Stouffer and Anita Wright were present.