By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
Voters are being asked to go to the polls March 8 to approve a mechanism to finance two major repair projects — repaving the middle school parking lot and replacing the high school artificial turf athletic field.
On the surface, it appears like the school board is asking for permission to borrow a maximum of $2,034,509 for the work.
But school board members explain that they are just positioning the district to be able to receive a form of state aid. The state financing won’t be an outright grant, but will come in the form of relief for debt service.
So, to get what will amount to about 40 percent of the total cost, the school board has to first borrow money, even though the term of the note will be short term — like one year — to make it just long enough to qualify for the state aid. And it will likely be at a low interest rate.
The rest of the money will come from savings that the board has been putting away for a few years at the end of each school budget year.
Therefore, when all is said and done, the two projects won’t result in any new property tax burden, said board President Thomas Kinst in discussions leading to the board’s 7-0 vote, with two abstentions, to set the date of the referendum for Tuesday, March 8.
Proposed are replacing the artificial turf field at the high school and paving, drainage and site improvements on the parking lot at the middle school. Both projects will rise or fall on the one question — not allowing a split vote on just one item without the other.
If everything falls as planned, the work on both the lot and the field would be done next summer.
Following an auditing of finances at the end of June, the board determined Sept. 21 it had enough in surplus to be able to move $1 million into its capital reserve fund to bring that account for major facility projects to about $1.8 million, school officials said.
The total price to repave the lot and replace the artificial field amounts to about $2 million — about $1.4 million for the repaving and $600,000 for the field. The district has been assured by the state that it qualifies for 40 percent reimbursement in debt service aid.
The school board has previously authorized its architect, Gregory Somjen, to draw schematic engineering plans to rebuild the pothole-ridden school lot, whose lack of drainage means icing in the winter. The plans call for a reconfiguration of traffic flow, but won’t change the overall size of the paved lot.
The school board believes the turf field is in the last year of being deemed safe enough on which to play.
Some of the money from surplus into the capital reserve fund came from energy-savings projects that brought financial benefit to the district in the form of lower energy bills. Other money comes from various ways, like employees leaving, cheaper prices for goods, or simply spending less than the budget anticipated when produced 15 months earlier.
The original turf field was built 11 years ago with money raised by a community effort, said board member Gregory Gillette. People made it clear then that they wanted the school district to absorb the costs of maintenance and replacement after about a decade of use.
The school district as done that by putting aside money over the last several years, he said.
Mr. Gillette called the referendum and other machinations “logical” and “a conservative use of our money.”
By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor