Pickerington Schools asking voters to reconsider bond request for facilities upgrades

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group

Pickerington Schools officials hope the second time around is more effective in seeking voter support of a bond issue to fund construction of a new junior high school and upgrades to other buildings and athletics facilities.

Just last month, voters rejected the district’s request for a 2.9-mill bond issue that would have generated $95 million over up to 38 years to fund projects that officials say are needed to accommodate estimated enrollment growth over the next decade.

Ryan Jenkins, Pickerington Schools treasurer.

The Nov. 3 election total was 13,602 votes, or 44.67% of votes cast, for the bond and 15,434, or 50.68%, against it.

On Dec. 7, the Pickerington school board voted unanimously to bring another bond issue for the same stated purposes back to voters May 4.

District officials said they are doing so because projected overcrowding issues still exist.

"The building needs didn't go away," board President Lori Sanders said. "We're still being very proactive. Given that building construction takes a couple years before you open your doors, we're still trying to be proactive and meet the needs." 

According to district treasurer Ryan Jenkins, the millage for the May 4 request might decrease by the time the bond issue is placed on the ballot because the 2020 tax assessments for properties within district boundaries are expected to be higher than in 2019.

“When property values are higher, that means our millage can be lower,” Jenkins said. “Between 2.7 and 2.9 mills, hopefully, is where we’ll come in.

“It’s a $95 million issue. Nothing has changed. It’s the same list of projects.”

The board approved the resolution of necessity to place the $95 million bond issue on the May 4 ballot without comment. 

In addition to getting a jump on addressing projected enrollment growth and classroom overcrowding issues as soon as possible, Sanders said Dec. 9 that the longer the district and community wait to move forward with projects, the more costly they're likely to be. 

"Costs don't go down in construction," she said. "They only go up. That's why we've started the process now to express that our need is still real." 

When seeking the bond that was rejected last month, district officials cited a study conducted by Cooperative Strategies during the 2018-19 school year that projected enrollment in the 10,600-student district would increase to 12,400 within 10 years.

The centerpiece of the district’s plan for addressing growth is a new junior high school that would serve up to 1,100 students. It would be built on 66 acres, known as the McGill property the district owns on Lockville Road, south of Opportunity Way. The district also would build a new stadium on that site for Pickerington High School Central.

The school's stadium is in a floodplain behind Ridgeview STEM Junior High and does not have an adequate number of lanes on its running track to hold OHSAA-sanctioned events.

The district already has started a project to build a shell for the stadium, but the only portions of the project being finished at this point are a new track and bleachers on the visitors’ side of the facility. 

The stadium won't be completed for football games or other uses unless additional funding comes from the bond, Sanders said. 

"The (new Central stadium) is not done," she said. "It's really just something that could host a track meet or lacrosse match." 

The plan includes converting Ridgeview STEM into a building to serve students in grades K-4 who attend Heritage Elementary School, fifth- and sixth-grade students and students from the district's Gateway Academy, a gifted-education program for students with superior cognitive skills.

Heritage would be converted into the permanent home of the district's preschool program. It also would house the District Welcome Center, an office that processes data for students who are enrolling.

Additionally, the plan calls for adding 24 classrooms to Pickerington High School Central, renovate the main entry for better security and expanding its cafeteria.

Pickerington High School North would see additional classrooms and construction of a more secure main entrance.

According to the Cooperative Strategies study, the district likely would see an increase of 1,000 students by the 2023-24 school year.

Superintendent Chris Briggs has said the district has "utilized all available space in our buildings and existing facilities."

The bond put before voters in November would have cost owners of a residence valued at $100,000 approximately $102 per year, according to the district.

Ed Laramie of the Fairfield County Auditor's Office said based on the current total valuation in the school district – a little more than $1.5 billion – preliminary estimates show the issue was expected to generate about $4.4 million annually.

If the May bond issue had been approved, the $95 million it would generate would have enabled the district to pay off debt and interest it would incur from the construction projects.

In addition to last month’s bond rejection, a 3-mill permanent-improvements levy to fund ongoing maintenance and upgrades, including safety and security features, for buildings and athletics facilities was turned down in May 2017 by 3,900 votes, or 64.4% against it, to 2,154 votes, or 35.6%, for it.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate