O’Neill School Board Reaches Stalemate on Multimillion Dollar Facility Improvements

At this point we don’t have a consensus, we don’t have a majority opinion on our board of what we want to do and I hope by next Monday we’ll have that.

- O'Neill School Board President Jim Gotschall

O’NEILL, NE — O’Neill residents will have to wait one more week before finding out if their school district will move forward with multimillion dollar facility improvements or not.

The six-member board of education entertained four different motions for building projects but could not get a majority in favor of a project. They decided to call a second special meeting next Monday to try to reach a compromise.

After the meeting, Board President Jim Gotschall said the proposed improvements were long overdue and he hoped a week to think would lead to a resolution.

“I think they’re long overdue. At this point we don’t have a consensus, we don’t have a majority opinion on our board of what we want to do and I hope by next Monday we’ll have that.”

A standing-room only crowd packed the high school gym for a public work session that lasted over two hours. They debated the merits of the building project which could cost as much as $20 million dollars and would result in construction of a new gym, auditorium and up to five new classrooms. The District would pay for the project through a combination of funds from the Grand Prairie Wind Farm and an increase in the property tax levy.

The public seemed to divide into three camps: for the project, against the project and against the process used to decide on the project.

O’Neill resident John Nickoless said he wants better education for students but wants a more representative way to decide how to do it.

“Having six people decide to spend $20 million without the vote and the support of the majority of the taxpayers and land owners in the district, I oppose that.”

Nikki Dougherty owns land in the school district and says the increased levy would put too big of a burden on property owners.

“There comes a point where we are putting too much burden on the land owner. We can’t do it. It’s actually causing problems bringing children back and getting people onto the farm because it’s getting too expensive.”

Several residents and students spoke in front of the board voicing support for the entire project.

“I encourage the board members and administration to do everything possible to see that the children have the very best in facilities and learning,” one resident said.

The Board voted 5-1 against the entire $20 million project. They split 3-3 on Gotschall’s proposal of a $16.5 million plan that would shrink the gym and only add two classrooms. A $13.9 million proposal that eliminated the auditorium was shut down 4-2.

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