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      Passage of $22 million bond would help School of the Osage to grow

      Voters will decide whether or not to approve a $22 million dollar bond issue to improve the grade school tonight.

      Positive change is on tonight's ballot in the School of the Osage school district.

      The Mills Elementary School serves kids Pre-K to second grade, and it's the oldest school in the lake area district, School of the Osage.

      Students use the gymnasium not only for physical education classes, but also as a cafeteria. The library has been cut down by half to provide more classroom space. Problems like these have the school district ready to come up with a plan to resolve and renovate.

      "There is zero space. Of course we want to be proactive, we anticipate some small growth here...we anticipate growth at the Lake, and we have no place to grow, so that hints the need to do something, and do something quickly," superintendent Brent Depee said.

      A $22 million dollar bond issue is up for decision tonight. It's been in the works for almost two years. Voters will be faced with a 12.9-cent property tax increase, up from $2.72, which is currently the lowest rate in the state.

      School officials and many residents said the increase will be worth the extra space for kids, teachers, and administrators.

      "We shared with the committee that we were out of classroom space. As education changes we're required to offer more and more specialized services. Of course that takes space, so we've had to become very creative in finding space," Depee said.

      If the bond passes, the district will still have a lower tax rate than surrounding communities.

      The only alternative to this proposal is building a brand new elementary school, which would cost $6 millon more than renovating existing property.

      "It's always been the big question, what do we do with the old high school? From the very beginning, this thing was built in 1933 and I graduated in 1967 with all 12 years here in this building. I love this building. I had four children who went through it, I have six grandchildren who are in it now. I sit on the school board, my dad sat on the school board. To the community, this building is important," said Don Steen, the co-chair of the bond issue committee.

      That building is the former School of the Osage high school, which has a historic presence in the community.

      "We want to renovate this back to it's original state back in 1933. So we want to keep as many of the features as we can. At school of the Osage we want to always remember the past, but we want to prepare our kids for the future. This is a tremendous building, tremndously well-built, and we want to preserve some of the features of the building," said Depee.

      Several proposals were reviewed including building a new elementary school on Highway 42, where the district owns property, but there were concerns over utility relocations, roadways, and increased traffic flow.

      Several parents who attended a March 21 meeting were excited about the changes to the parking lot, and the pick up and drop off line. Others are just happy their children will have more space to thrive in school.

      "$21 million will go into the addition and renovation of this building. The other million will go towards our high school. We have some security measures that we need to take care of. We need to redo our offices and the flow of visitors into our high schools, and we will also redo our science labs," Depee said.

      If voters approve the bond issue, the construction will start late this summer and, barring any major delays, the school will be operational for the 2014 year.