Issue 68 failure stalls plans for new school building

Published:

by Jeremy Nobile | Reporter

Tallmadge -- The school district wants to engage the community to learn why voters elected to bring plans to build a new elementary school to a halt.

"I know the Board [of Education] and everyone involved is disappointed we weren't able to connect with enough voters for them to understand what we're trying to do, the urgency of the need and the timeliness of it," said School Board President Rick Kellar. "But we're grateful for everyone who weighed in. We're listening, and I think often times folks don't believe we are."

Issue 68 -- a 3.51-mill bond designed to raise about $27.5 million over 35 years to construct an elementary school for children in prekindergarten through fifth grades -- was voted down by a sizable margin Nov. 6.

According to final but unofficial results from the Summit County Board of Elections, the levy received 3,622 votes for (38.5 percent) and 5,775 votes against (61.4 percent).

"We really thought this was a great opportunity for the children of Tallmadge and for the citizens moving into the future," said Superintendent Jeff Ferguson. "My hope is the Board will try to engage the people to try to talk to them about what we do moving forward.

"To do nothing is not a long-term solution for the children of Tallmadge," he added.

School officials agreed the next step will be to launch a dialogue with the community as to why the levy failed.

"The community spoke very clearly [Nov. 6], and at this point, they don't have the enthusiasm for this project," said Steve Wood, Tallmadge Schools director of business. "From our perspective, we need to understand why -- what didn't they like about it?"

Wood said he has a couple reasons in mind: perhaps residents didn't entirely understand why the new building is necessary or how the new construction would secure grant money from the state through the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

Or perhaps residents simply aren't in a position to take on the increase in property taxes, he said. They bond issue would have cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $214 a year throughout its lifetime.

In the short term, Wood said the levy's failure means the district will need to determine how to best expend its financial resources for capital improvements.

The district's current elementary school buildings -- Munroe Elementary and Dunbar Primary -- are between 50 and 60 years old. Wood said aging infrastructures at those buildings mean the district will have to decide what's more "economically smart" in terms of whether degrading roofs and boiler units, which are as old as the buildings themselves, should be replaced or patched up.

If a new facility were on the horizon, temporary fixes would be more practical, Wood noted.

Building the new elementary school for young students at the site of the David Bacon School on Strecker Drive would have been the second of three phases of the district's Master Plan for school facilities.

Phase 1 was the construction of the new Tallmadge High School that opened in 2008, and Phase 3 is currently slated as the eventual renovation of the existing Tallmadge Middle School.

If Phase 2 is completed to the state's satisfaction, rebates from the OSFC would fund nearly all of Phase 3. Receiving a portion of that finite state money available is a crucial element of the district's Master Plan.

With the levy's failure, school officials and members of the community will need to evaluate whether that plan should be changed or continue to be pursued. Because that conversation needs to take place, Kellar noted it's too soon to determine whether the district will seek a similar or different bond issue in the future.

"Can we build a school for cheaper? Should we change the plan? I don't think we know what those answers are yet, and we're going to spend a lot of time and figure that out before we decide to put something back in front of the voters," said Kellar.

If the Board eventually decides to pursue another bond issue, the soonest a levy could potentially come before voters would be at the Feb. 5, 2013, special election.

Email: jnobile@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400, ext. 4179

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