During a conversation last week at the Big Walnut Local School District main office, district superintendent Angie Pollock said during the May board of education meeting tonight (May 18), members of the district’s facilities committee would present their recommendation for a November 7 ballot issue to address the district’s growing facilities needs.
During the November 8, 2016, General Election district voters defeated a $133.9 million, 8.3-mil bond issue that would have allowed the immediate construction of one new elementary building, and started the process of building an approximately 2,000-student high school. That bond issue would also have included funds to add on to the district’s current middle school building and also funds needed renovations to the district’s older buildings.
Pollock has said on several occasions that the need for additional space as the district grows has not gone away with the defeat of the last bond issue. This year’s graduating class is in the 240’s, and several classes coming up are around 300 students. Add to those numbers the fact that residential developers have been unable to keep up with demand for new build homes in the school district.
To accommodate increasing student enrollment the district has moved forward with plans to add modular classrooms at General Rosecrans Elementary School and refurbish two abandoned modular classrooms at Big Walnut Elementary – a move that Pollock has said is a temporary solution as the district grows from an approximately 3,600-student school district this year to an estimated around 6,000 students by 2025.
“The problem with trailers, besides being a security challenge, is they’re coming out of the general fund and that’s an impact on our budget, which in turn impacts money for academics,” Pollock said. “If we continue to add trailers there will be less money for new teachers. That means larger class sizes, and that translates into fewer opportunities for our students.”
Pollock said board of education members have several statutory steps they must take before an issue could be placed on the ballot this November.
“The board members will pass a resolution asking the state for permission to place a bond issue on the November ballot,” Pollock said. “The Facilities Committee will make a recommendation on the specific structure of the ballot issue.”
Pollock said the Facility Committee recommendation would be based on community feedback from the school district’s recent questionnaire about the need for a ballot issue to accommodate escalating student population numbers.
“A November Bond Issue would address the immediate need for an elementary building, plus a new high school,” Poll
ock said. “If a November Bond Issue passes it would take two years to design and build an elementary school; four years to design and build a high school.”
Pollock did not state an exact Bond Issue dollar amount or millage. She said a dollar amount would have to be a board of education decision, and millage would then be determined by Delaware County Auditor George Kaitsa’s office.
“We have scaled down the capital needs,” Pollock said. “I can say that a high school for 2,000 students would cost $87 million, including land, and an elementary school is currently in the $16 million range.”
Pollock said both facilities would include athletic space for both school and community use.
“Because of the limited Parks and Recreation facilities in the Big Walnut community, there’s a growing need for athletic spaces used by youth programs and community members,” Pollock said. “So many youth programs in the school district practice late at night because athletic facility and park space is limited. It’s important that we have space for physical education instruction plus student and community needs.”
Pollock said that members of the Facilities Committee plan to recommend the addition of a Permanent Improvement Levy to the November ballot recommendation. She said a modest PI Levy would be continuous and bring in dollars for safety and security needs, and for targeting the district’s most important capital needs, including HVAC maintenance and replacement of aging heating units.
“We’re looking at a Permanent Improvement Levy to generate about $1 million a year for the capital improvements we’re taking off the last bond issue,” Pollock said. “And as we grow we have to buy additional buses. We have increasing maintenance costs on the older buses in our fleet, and a growing number of our older buses are getting at the tipping point.”
Pollock said that not only does the district have to replace older buses, but as the district’s student population increases the size of the district’s fleet will have to grow.
Pollock said after board members approve the resolution for state consent to pace a Bond Issue and a Permanent Improvement Levy on the November ballot, board members would then pass a Resolution of Necessity for Bonds during the June 15 board meeting. That resolution would then allow the county auditor to certified estimated millage based on specific issue size and estimated interest rate, maximum maturity, and current tax valuation.
Pollock said if that timeline is adhered to, members of the board of education would likely pass a Resolution to Proceed for Bonds during the July 20 board meeting, in time to meet the August 1 board of elections filing deadline.
“The district questionnaire is still online,” Pollock added. “And there will be board members present one-half hour prior to the start of the May board meeting to answer community member’s questions and accept feedback. As always, if folks have additional questions please reach out to us at the central office.”
Pollock also noted that the May 18 Board of Education meeting venue has been moved to Big Walnut High School to accommodate the Eagle Mentor Award Program and Dinner. The award ceremony begins at 5 p.m. in the high school auditorium; the board meeting begins at 6:30 in the high school Innovation Center – a.k.a. Library.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093.