Licking County News

SWL board likely to decide bond plans next month

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Southwest Licking school board members will meet in a special session, likely early next month, to decide what to do following the May 6 defeat of a 6.1-mill, 37-year bond issue.

The bond issue, which was rejected 2,737 votes (54 percent) to 2,320 (46 percent), would have raised more than $66.5 million for a $109 million facility construction and renovation project.

The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission would have contributed $42.5 million to the project.

"The board decided that further discussion on the scope and timeline needs to be done before going back to the voters," Superintendent Robert Jennell said.

Jennell said the offer for funding from the OFCC will lapse in August. Afterward, the district would need to obtain its local share in the form of a bond issue before going back to the OFCC for funding.

If the bond issue had been approved, Southwest Licking planned to build a high school and an elementary school; renovate the current high school into a middle school; renovate all three elementary buildings; and convert the existing middle school into a pre-kindergarten center, district offices and transportation center.

"The price of that project has already gone up $2 million," board Vice President Debra Moore said.

Moore said the board, when it meets, will discuss the option of "segmenting" building upgrades, or placing smaller bond issues on the ballot over an extended period of time.

However, she said, segmenting upgrades and bond issues is a complex process involving many state rules, which board members need to discuss.

Moore said the May 6 defeat was a disappointment.

"We did a lot of work," she said.

A similar bond request failed Nov. 5, 2013, by a similar percentage: 3,033 to 2,598 votes, or about 54 percent to 46 percent.

Moore said changes in campaign strategy between November 2013 and May 2014 obviously were not successful.

"We have to come up with a different way to communicate the need," she said.

"We're not going to be in any huge hurry," board President Don Huber said, adding that the board likely would spend the summer deciding exactly which direction to go with future ballot issues concerning renovating and building facilities.

Huber predicted it would be four or five years before the district would have any new buildings. But, he said, the bond defeat would not stop the district from continuing to accommodate its student enrollment.

"We'll continue to find ways to move forward," he said.

Huber said the bond issue faced several hurdles, including an electorate that's reluctant to accept new taxes and a May primary ballot with few issues for local voters.

Huber said generally speaking, school district issues alone do not entice people to the polls.

"Turnout was really low," he said. "We don't win when turnout is low."

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