$1.19 million Oregon School District bus barn, storage shed project OK’d

An Oregon school bus sits in front of the bus garage located south of the high school in Oregon.

OREGON — An expenditure of $1.19 million for a new bus barn and storage shed for the Oregon School District was approved last week.

On Jan. 17, Oregon School Board members voted to accept a $1,199,306 bid from Sjostrom & Sons to install a bus barn with wash stations, a storage shed and a concrete apron around the bus barn. The new bus barn is to replace the one located at the former David L. Rahn Junior High School in Mt. Morris, which the district sold last year.

“It’s pretty straightforward. We knew we were going to have to do it,” District Superintendent Tom Mahoney said. “Costs were a little higher than we initially expected because of construction cost increases. The bid came in a little higher than we thought.”

Ground could be broken on the projects as soon as April, Mahoney said. How long it takes to complete will depend on how long it takes to get the materials, which are on a four- to six-month lead time, he said.

“We hope we got it ready early enough to have [the project] done by the beginning of the 2023-24 school year,” Mahoney said. “The timeline goal is to be done by Aug. 1.”

In the meantime, the district is leasing the DLR bus barn for $1 a year, he said.

The project will be funded multiple ways, with the district initially paying for the capital outlay with cash out of reserves, he said.

The state will reimburse 75% of the bus barn construction over the next 20 years, Mahoney said. Because transportation is a mandated service, the state reimburses 75% of all transportation costs, including purchases of school buses, he said.

A $50,000 school maintenance grant from the state also will go toward the bus barn, Mahoney said.

“Because we’re healthy in our reserve and we have a healthy working cash balance, we have the money to do it,” he said. “We’re not borrowing money to do it. It’s a no-interest cost to us.”

Mt. Morris resident Bruce Obendorf, who was part of an informal advisory board that fought to keep DLR open, disapproved of the expenditure.

“One of the reasons for getting rid of Rahn was that they were going to save money,” Obendorf said. “The board members and the superintendent made such an issue during the whole Rahn discussion that they didn’t have the money [to maintain it]. They didn’t have the fund balances, the reserves ratio at 50% of revenues, that they weren’t meeting that — and now all of a sudden it’s acceptable to spend $1 million?”

Obendorf also questioned the necessity of a bus barn, and criticized the fact that board members didn’t discuss the project on Jan. 17 prior to voting.

Mahoney said buses typically last about five years, and storing them inside extends their life by two to three years.

On Feb. 22, 2022, Oregon School Board members voted 4-2 to close DLR at the end of the 2021-22 school year and move seventh grade and eighth grade students to Oregon High School. The decision came despite pleas from Mt. Morris officials and residents to keep the school open.

DLR was the last remaining school in Mt. Morris. The Mt. Morris School District merged with the Oregon School District in 1994 because of financial reasons.

Mahoney first proposed closing DLR in May 2021, citing decreasing enrollment throughout the district and increasing maintenance costs at DLR as reasons to do so. In August 2022, the Oregon School Board accepted a high bid of $51,000 from Fred Kenney, of Oregon, for the building and surrounding property.

A report the informal advisory group commissioned says necessary life safety repairs to DLR would have cost $300,000, according to Obendorf.

The cost of life safety repairs at DLR that would have had to occur within one- to three years would have been more than $3.59 million, according to a building usage study by Midwest School Consultants commissioned by Mahoney. The study also says an additional $2.4 million in repairs would have had to be done within three- to 10 years, and another $993,531 in repairs were optional.

The district’s study also projected a cumulative transportation savings of $30,600 per year if all Mt. Morris students were transported to Oregon.

Mahoney previously stated, on multiple occasions, that closing DLR would save the district at least $200,000 per year in operating costs.

“They’ve lost all the savings that they were the reason that they closed Rahn in the first place,” Obendorf said. “So that’s disappointing.”

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner covers Ogle County for the Oregon Republican Reporter, Forreston Journal, Mt. Morris Times and Polo Tri-County Press. She has seven-plus years of experience in journalism and has won numerous awards, including a first place award for investigative reporting from the WNA.