November 1, 2017

The Future of Ames High: An Overview of Whether to Build New, Renovate, or Do Nothing

Next spring, the Ames community has a big decision to make regarding what to do with the high school. Do we build a new one? Renovate? “Do Nothing?”

It’s a complex issue with a lot of things to consider, but we hope to explain many of the questions we’ve been hearing to keep you informed.

Why do we need a new high school? Where will we build it? We’ll do a quick study on school finances, looking at how much each option will cost and how that decision will impact taxpayers. Finally, how will this decision benefit students? Because after all, schools are for kids.

Current State

Initially built in 1960, our current building as it stands today has 15 additions and 13 elevation changes. The first addition was put on in 1962, offices were added in 1963, the pool in 1965, and then a gymnasium was added on in 1966.

When Haila Architecture did their Phase 1 study, they found that with the exception of the pool and a few other areas, the overall exterior structure is actually okay. It’s the interior that’s becoming more of a functional challenge. Some of the major concerns cited in the Phase 1 study include the circulation of students within the building, accessibility, along with security features.

Hallways within the high school are tight and with the many additions, it is not laid out efficiently. Although the building is ADA compliant as far as accessibility, if you’ve ever been in the high school, you know it can be difficult to get around, especially in the fine arts wing. Additionally, the building has far too many exterior doors and lacks some of the security features that our new building have.

Where would we build it?

The plan as it stands today would be to build a new high school along Ridgewood, currently where the practice fields are located. Thanks to 1% sales tax, we have already been able to move the softball field to the 24th Street athletic complex. Next year, the plan is to also move the tennis courts over to 24th Street thanks to PPEL funds.

That opens up an entire section to build a high school. When done, the current building would be demolished and practice fields would go in that location. This plan allows for the opportunity to keep the high school at its current campus location indefinitely. 

Difficulties with the Remodel Option:

Earlier this year, the school board, in a show of leadership, conducted an unofficial vote and unanimously supported the option to build new. They did this because the renovate option never seemed like the right choice. It would take longer, the cost was comparable, and logistically it would be very difficult because we would to use the building as we renovate it. And with most renovations, it’s encountering the unknown that offers the possibility of going over budget.

Haila Architecture estimates that it would cost $85 million and take 5 years. They estimate that to build new, it would take 3 years at a cost of $95 million.

21st Century Skills

How students learn today, and the skills they need to become college and career ready is very different today than in the 1960’s. Back then, teachers stood in the front of the classroom and students got information from behind their desks.

But that’s not the modern work environment of today. Students need space to collaborate, communicate with each other, and problem solve. These are the 21st Century Skills that are vital for students to succeed.

Our current high school does not have the flexible learning spaces that our middle school and elementary schools have. In addition to that, our current high school building is in need of significant technological upgrades.

School Finances General

School finances are a complicated endeavour and there are a lot of misperceptions about where the money comes from and how we can spend it. But here are a couple of important things to know:

If voters approve the bond, then the ACSD can only spend that money on a new high school. It isn’t like the District has $95 million to spend on anything we want. It cannot go toward teacher salaries or student programs. It can only be used toward the construction of a new high school. If voters do not approve the bond, then the District simply doesn’t have the money.

The other important thing to know is that property taxes will not go up. Now you’re asking how is this possible? And that’s a great question! It’s a result of years of being fiscally responsible with taxpayer money.

The District has a practice of prepaying GO bonds whenever possible without increasing the tax rate. This was the practice when the middle school was paid off, and for the elementary bond we will save $6.2 million after becoming debt free on June 30, 2020.

The rate that we have been paying in property taxes, which is one of the lowest in Story County, is enough to pay for a new high school without taxes going up. Nothing changes.


To recap, some of the major things we are considering with the new high school include the state of the current building.

  • 15 additions since 1960 and 13 elevation changes.
  • Some of the major concerns with the current building include the circulation of students and security features.
  • Students need space to collaborate with each, communicate effectively, and problem solve. We don’t have those spaces for students in the current building.
  • We estimate building new would take 3 years as opposed to 5 years to renovate
  • And property taxes will remain the same as they are today.

We hope this summary of where we are at with the high school helps. We know there are a lot of moving pieces and we appreciate the questions and conversation.