Tipp City schools debate going to ballot again for new classrooms

The Tipp City Exempted Village Schools Board of Education will consider again asking voters to raise property taxes for new classrooms.

A key decision on the project will be made at a Dec. 17 meeting as the board debates whether to go to voters in May or November 2019 for a bond issue.

The pros and cons of which ballot were reviewed by board members and administrators in a work session and board meeting in late November.

A decision is needed as part of the district’s planned application to the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission for 35 percent state funding for a project. If a May bond issue is planned, the application needs to be at the OFCC in December, architect Mike Ruetschle said.

The board has talked with community members since spring in forums about a proposal for new pre-kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms in an addition at the L.T. Ball building, which now houses fourth and fifth grades. A new building also would be home to students now attending the older Nevin Coppock and Broadway elementary buildings.

About one half of the existing L.T. Ball building would be renovated as part of the plan being readied for the OFCC. Work on the rest of the building would come down the road, Ruetschle said.

Among questions raised by the board at their recent meeting were whether the community has enough information on the proposal and supporters have enough time to campaign for the May election. Among concerns were the impact of higher interest rates and construction costs and other financial considerations if a vote didn’t come until November 2019.

The estimated difference in cost for a project between a May and November vote could reach $3 million, said Gary Pfister, district director of services.

“We need to make sure we have our ducks in a row,” board President Sam Spano said. “I think the $2 million to $3 million additional cost to wait until November is huge.”

A delay would be “a poor use” of money, he said.

The estimated cost of the project was revised recently to $35.4 million, based on state enrollment updates for a growing student population. That would increase a bond issue from the previously estimated 4.95 mills to 5.51 mills, Ruetschle said. Those figures don’t include the possible $3 million increase in the project if the bond issue is presented to voters later rather than sooner.

More community meetings are planned beginning in January.

Board member Joellen Heatherly said a lot of work remains before going to voters. She pointed to board discussions on a possible community survey, a traffic study in the area proposed for the new school and the verbal agreement to form a community committee to look at the future of the Broadway school site in the middle of a residential area south of Main Street.

The Broadway question has been raised for several years. The district in 2016 proposed building a new pre-kindergarten through third grade building on the Broadway School site but the proposal was soundly defeated.

“These are all steps we need to do,” Heatherly said, adding the district needs to look at a project impact on staff and a number of other details. “I don’t think we have enough information to go on the May ballot. It is going to be a lot of work to pass it (bond issue).”

Administrators encouraged the board to seriously consider a May vote.

“I feel with that big of a cost increase from May to November, we should go to the voters in May … give the voters the opportunity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Pfister said.

District Treasurer Dave Stevens also advocated the board move forward with a May bond issue.

“I just think that every second we wait, it is just more money,” he said.

Contact this contributing writer at nancykburr@aol.com.

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