Area school voters approve taxes to build new schools

Students take music class in what was once a gym at the 99-year-old Franklin Junior High School. Franklin voters approved a ballot issue to build new schools.
Students take music class in what was once a gym at the 99-year-old Franklin Junior High School. Franklin voters approved a ballot issue to build new schools.

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Fairborn, Franklin will use money to build new and upgrade older buildings.

Voters in Fairborn and Franklin approved 37-year school bond issues Tuesday that will change the face of their communities for decades to come. Xenia’s school bond is trailing 51.3% to 48.7% and district officials still pinned their hopes on late-arriving ballots.

In Franklin, 60% of voters approved a 6.52-mill plan to replace almost all the district’s existing school buildings. Bond funds will pay to build a new high school on the current junior high site no later than fall 2023 as well as renovating the existing high school to serve as a middle school.

ExploreMore details on the projects in Franklin, Fairborn and Xenia

Because voters approved the local tax, it triggers a “state share” of funding from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. That money, which is expected to be available within 5-6 years, will be used to replace Franklin’s five elementary schools and one early childhood center with three new elementaries.

Superintendent Mike Sander said some people thought the school district was “nuts” for seeking the bond issue in a middle-class community during an economic downturn, but he said with interest rates very low and the state chipping in millions, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would get (a 60-40 vote) … I was hoping to just win by one,” he said. “We have a great community that really does care for our kids. I just think that this is going to benefit so many of our children for years to come.”

A note reminds students and staff how to use the old lock on the Franklin Junior High music room. Franklin voters will decide this fall whether to support a ballot issue to build new schools.
A note reminds students and staff how to use the old lock on the Franklin Junior High music room. Franklin voters will decide this fall whether to support a ballot issue to build new schools.

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

At Monday’s open school board meeting, representatives of project architect SHP will give a presentation, as the district starts working on community input and project design. Sander said they hope to set up community meetings soon, with a goal of breaking ground on the new high school in fall 2021.

“I think it’s going to reshape the community,” Sander said. “You’re putting the high school right here as you come into Franklin. I think it’s going to change what the city of Franklin becomes, as well as what the school district becomes.”

Fairborn bond passes

Fairborn voters also solidly approved bonds for school construction, with the Greene County Board of Elections showing 56% in favor.

The 5.83-mill combo bond/levy will fund construction of a $65 million to $70 million high school, performing arts center and athletic complex to open by fall 2023 between Commerce Center Boulevard and I-675.

ExploreFairborn grad donates $2.5 million to buy land for project

Superintendent Gene Lolli said middle school students will then move the the current high school, until the estimated $33 million in state share money is delivered to build a new middle school.

Fairborn High School Principal Brian McKnight said excitement was running through his students and staff Wednesday morning, and Lolli said the district will move quickly, with the school board scheduled to pass resolutions hiring a construction manager on Thursday.

Lolli and district Treasurer Kevin Philo said the committee of residents and school staff who met to provide public input before the levy will start meeting again soon.

“As we start to design it, we’ll go back to the community and get their input and give them the schools they want,” Philo said.

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Fairborn voters had already approved bonds in 2016 for a new primary school and intermediate school. Lolli said when the new primary school opened this year, it “helped set the tone” and generated more interest in getting all Fairborn students into “21st century” school buildings.

“I’m not surprised from our community, because I think they want better schools and want their kids in state-of-the-art classrooms,” he said. “I am surprised however, given the COVID situation (and economic pressure), that it passed. That was our unknown. To see that it passed by a little under 2000 votes is remarkable.”

Xenia still waiting

If passed, Xenia’s 2.6-mill bond issue would generate $36 million for construction of a replacement for Warner Middle School. Results at the end of election night had them 435 votes behind out of 16,700.

“We thank every voter who supported Issue 24 to build a new Warner Middle School, and will continue to wait for every vote to be counted before making any decisions,” Xenia Superintendent Gabe Lofton said.

Explore2017 story: Xenia voters reject school bond request

Lofton cited the many provisional and late-arriving absentee ballots that would still be counted in the days to come. Greene County Board of Elections officials said 562 provisional ballots could affect the Xenia race, as well as any valid absentee ballots that arrive by Nov. 13.

In 2009, Xenia voters approved a bond issue that paid for five new elementary schools. But in 2016-17, when the district asked voters for another bond to build a new middle school-high school complex, they were rejected three times.

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