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'Building Better Dreams' on ballot

Alissa Widman Neese • Jul 30, 2014 at 5:06 PM

widman@sanduskyregister.com

Once every few generations, a community makes a substantial statement.

Sandusky school board member Jeff Krabill, as well as other Sandusky Schools officials, honed their message to voters Monday.

Now is their chance.

At a special meeting, all five board members agreed to officially place a bond issue to fund two new school buildings on the Nov. 4 ballot.

If approved, the proposed measure, called "Building Better Dreams," would finance the largest construction project in the district's history.

"This is a big step for our schools, for our community and for our taxpayers," Krabill said. "It's a statement about who we are, and what we value — and it's not an easy thing to do."

The specifics

If approved, "Building Better Dreams" would:

• Demolish Hancock Elementary School and build a facility for preschool through third grade behind its current site.

• Demolish Ontario Elementary School and build a facility for grades four through six behind its current site.

• Renovate science laboratories at Sandusky High School.

• Repurpose Mills Elementary School as an adult education building and Venice Heights Elementary School as the new Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies, a school for gifted students.

• Retain Osborne Elementary School for transitional space or community use.

• Retain all of the old Jackson Junior High School building for transitional space and community use.

The old Adams Junior High School building would continue to house Sandusky Digital Academy, the district's new online school, and would not change.

The finances

The entire Sandusky Schools construction project would cost nearly $58 million.

The Ohio School Facilities Commission, a state organization, would oversee the project and fund a significant portion of it.

State-approved aspects of the project total about $51 million. The commission will provide about 54 percent of that amount, or $28 million, while taxpayers must fund the remaining 46 percent, or $23 million, district treasurer Kevin Robertson said.

The extra $7 million in projects — renovations to Sandusky High School, preschool classrooms and other items the commission does not fund — also require local financing.

Therefore, in total, taxpayers will be asked to provide about $30 million in the form of a 3.98-mill, 34-year bond issue, which the Erie County auditor officially certified Friday for the Nov. 4 ballot.

After the auditor's calculations, it has been determined the bond issue would cost the annual owner of a $100,000 home about $139 in additional taxes each year.

"This is our time to do it," school board president Tom Patterson said. "The state would pay for half the project, and the community can't afford to rebuild the schools any other way."

The changes

Until this past week, the "Building Better Dreams" project proposed constructing two elementary school buildings adjacent to Sandusky High School, on the old Memorial Hospital site on Hayes Avenue.

As part of the original plan, Sandusky Schools would have demolished Hancock, Ontario and Osborne elementary schools and would not replace them.

A portion of the old Jackson Junior High School building, now the Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies, was also slated for demolition.

But after vetting feedback from community members, officials and board members agreed embedding the new schools in the community was a better option, they unexpectedly announced Friday.

Additionally, they'll spare all other buildings from demolition.

The district currently houses traditional elementary school students in schools throughout the city, and would still condense them all into the two new buildings, according to this revised proposal.

"Now these areas will remain a school area," said David Danhoff, the district's chief of staff and transformation officer. "I wouldn't say they're neighborhood schools. They're schools in a neighborhood."

Adjusting the two buildings' locations will not impact the overall cost of the project, as the buildings' designs and sizes will not change, Robertson said.

The questions

Board members fielded questions from a handful community members Monday regarding the "Building Better Dreams" project.

Eugene Sanders, the district's superintendent and typical spokesman, is on vacation this week and did not attend Monday's meeting to answer questions.

Here are responses the board members, as well as Danhoff, provided:

Q: What would happen to students at Hancock and Ontario elementary schools while construction and demolition is taking place?

A: Construction would take place behind the existing buildings, allowing students to continue using current facilities before they are demolished for green space, access roads or parking lots. Construction areas would be fenced off from students.

Q: Why did you decide to move the buildings from the old Memorial Hospital site?

A: Community feedback indicated a majority of voters preferred to keep the school buildings in those neighborhoods. Additionally, some residents expressed concerns about declining property taxes if the schools were to be removed.

Q: Now what would happen to the area next to Sandusky High School?

A: It's possible the areas would be used for athletic fields, such as a softball diamond, in the future. There would also be room for other construction, if necessary, and the district is open to suggestions from community members.

Q: Isn't illegal to fund a construction project using property taxes, according to the 1997 case DeRolph v. State of Ohio?

A: Not at this time. Although the Supreme Court of Ohio case did rule the state's method for funding public education was unconstitutional, it directed the state to find a remedy to the problem and never fully solved it.

Q: How would 'Building Better Dreams' impact preschool education in the local area?

A: The Ohio School Facilities Commission only funds preschool facilities for students with special needs. Even so, Sandusky Schools has included preschool classrooms in its building plan, using entirely local funds, because the district felt it was important to make those students part of the new building.

The district plans to host several meetings throughout the school year to discuss the plan with community members and field more questions, board members said.

Sandusky Schools bond issue

• If approved, this bond issue would generate $30 million for a building project costing $58 million total, in a timeframe of 34 years. The proposal would construct two new elementary school buildings, demolish two existing buildings and renovate science labs at Sandusky High School.

• 3.98-mill, 34-year bond issue.

• Would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $139 in additional taxes per year.

• Construction would begin next summer.

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