The Jewell School Board approved a design plan for the construction of a new Jewell school on Monday, a decision fueled by a rapid rise in building costs.

Destruction from Hurricane Katrina and the threat of other natural disasters have increased demand for building materials and sent their costs skyrocketing, said Tony Walters, program manager for the new building.

"Plywood has doubled in cost," Walters said. "And lumber has gone up 40 percent, as of last week."

The board last month decided to hold off building a gym with the new school until it was clear that enough funds were available. The design presented Monday night has a "not-to-exceed" $386,000 price tag, although some of those costs may be redundant and could be eliminated, said Gordon Lee, architect. He echoed Walters' sentiment that a prompt decision was necessary to limit the project's costs.

"None of us have created the hurricane," Lee said, "But I think we're all going to suffer because of the impact on building costs."

Board member Ann Samuelson asked whether buying lumber now may save future costs, but the architect and program manager said it wouldn't, and storing the lumber could lead to lost or misused supplies.

"I think time is of the essence," Samuelson said, adding that the board should make a decision. "We need to do it. Then, we can hammer on other issues."

Now that the board has unanimously approved the new school's design, costs will be refined with construction consultants, a final design will likely be finished by the beginning of 2006 and construction will hopefully wrap up by the start of the 2006-07 school year, Lee said.

Financial concerns related to the new building's construction led board members to table another proposal heard at Monday night's meeting, when the board decided students enrolled in Jewell School's "guaranteed success" program will not land a trip to Europe without further discussion.

In a 3-2 vote, board members delayed a proposal of where students in the program will go for their annual trip, a reward for getting their homework done on time all year, even if it means staying at school as late as 8 p.m. to finish it. Board members Oley Schockelt, Ann Samuelson and Carrie Thompson voted to table the discussion; Chairman Karl Meier and member Teri Greenwood voted against the delay.

School board members agreed that the program, which students enter by voluntarily signing a contract to get their work done, has greatly increased student success. But they weren't convinced a trip to London and Paris this year was a necessary incentive to keep the program growing.

"We need to remember we're also trying to build a new school," Meier said after watching a presentation of landmarks students could potentially visit.

Schockelt said he would feel "more comfortable" making a decision once school construction costs were firmed up.

"Maybe we could get the same results without having to fly people across the country at this time," Schockelt said. "There is a point where we have to be adults and recognize the financial situation we're in, and that's an important lesson for kids to learn also."

Student body president Jake Johnston said the reward trip is "the highlight of some of the kids' years."

"Where we put our money is in the most important areas," he said. "If this is most important to the kids, then consider putting the money there."

Students have gone to New York and to Washington, D.C., on previous years' trips. Staff member Don Anderson said a trip to London this year was "the most logical step, because so much of our culture comes from England."

About 80 percent of the students at the school participate in the program, which staff member Dave Hiebert credited with helping students to become more successful, happier and healthier. He said the year-end trip also provides an important educational opportunity.

"They come back having learned more in seven days than they probably did in nine weeks," Hiebert said. "I think these experiences will stay with them the rest of their lives. It makes them stronger people, and at least more experienced people."


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