Thanks to a too-close-for-comfort win at the polls Nov. 7, Big Walnut Local School District leaders say they finally can begin important preparation for the future of the growing district.
The district asked voters to approve a combined 6.6-mill bond issue and a 1.25-mill permanent-improvement levy, one year after residents shot down a $134 million, 8.3-mill bond issue by a vote of 54 to 46 percent.
This year's combined issue passed by a vote of 3,825 to 3,682 votes, or 51 to 49 percent, according to final, unofficial results from the Delaware County Board of Elections.
The race was so close -- just 143 votes separating a win from a loss -- that even when the Election Night results were all tallied, Superintendent Angie Pollock was reluctant to celebrate.
"We're pleased that unofficial election results show that we won," she said.
"We want to remain cautiously optimistic and make sure the board of elections finalizes that, but we feel good about it."
The bond issue is expected to raise an estimated $108 million and will be paid back over 37 years. The money will be used to build a new high school and an additional elementary school, as well as to add security upgrades to existing buildings.
Big Walnut officials said the issue will cost residents an increasing amount as the full millage begins to be collected. The district expects to collect just 1.56 mills in 2018, costing homeowners about $55 annually per $100,000 in property value.
That number will rise each year, from $99 in 2019 to $226 in 2020, ultimately arriving at around $275 annually when the full millage begins to be collected, leaders said.
School board President Andrew Wecker knows the numbers seem big on paper, but said he thinks voters were aware the district provides "a lot of value relative to our costs."
When the alternative is another few years of temporary classrooms and rented facilities, he thinks voters made the right fiscal option as well, he said.
This is the low-cost option -- brick-and-mortar (schools) are the low-cost option," Wecker said. "To kick the can down road with temporary options -- say, trailers -- is more expensive over time, we would have less to show for it and it has more safety concerns.
"What we've got now is money set aside for capital operations that will relieve a lot of the load on our existing levy, so it puts us in a much better position to make that last and not have to revisit it before it expires."
Pollock said expectations need to be tempered by the fact that there will be some more time spent in tight quarters and temporary classrooms. But the difference now, she said, is that there's an assured "light at the end of the tunnel."
"There's an end in sight," she said. "We know we're not going to be diverting hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to be able to pay for that space. It's a much better investment for our community than those temporary spaces.
"We're really glad to be moving forward and focusing on our academic vision and having the resources to support it."
While long-term building plans and finances are the major concerns for Wecker and Pollock, Wecker added it's important to remember how the crowding affects the lives of students in the district -- and how much that outlook changes after the passed issue.
"We were looking at going to four lunch periods that would start at 9:30 (a.m.)," he said. "That's not really school lunch -- that's school brunch. It's just one example of what it means when you're loading up our schools the way we're loading them up."
With finances in place, Wecker said architectural design for new buildings and land acquisition likely would be the priorities in the near future.
He said school board meetings in November would address plans.