On Aug. 29, members of the Community for Eagle Pride committee held a kickoff session for the Big Walnut Local School District’s 8.3-mil, $133.9 million Bond Issue that will be on the November 8 General Election Ballot.
Liana Lee, who chaired the school district’s successful 5-year, 6.9-mil, $4.9 million Substitute Levy in early 2015, is chairing the bond issue campaign with assistance from the non-profit Support Ohio Schools.
Lee said the bond issue definitely has to pass, and the November ballot presents the best statistical opportunity for success.
“We’re experiencing two times the rate of growth over five years ago,” Lee said. “Next year we will bus students outside the district of the school they should go to because of overcrowding, the year after that we’re going to be using trailers.”
Lee said it would take two years to build elementary school, an immediate need, and four years to build a high school serving 1,800 students.
District superintendent Angie Pollock walked audience members through the process leading up to the decision to go on the ballot: a 2015 enrollment study showing 62- to-79 percent student population growth by 2025, and a facilities committee exploring the financial impact of three options – do nothing and use modular classrooms to absorb growth; add on to existing facilities as student populations grow; or build a new elementary building and a new high school.
The committee’s final recommendation for meeting student population growth was to build a new 1,800 student high school on a new site; move the middle school students to the high school; move intermediate school students to the middle school; and turn the intermediate school into an elementary school and consolidate in-town preschool at that facility. The recommendation also includes the construction of one new elementary building; additions to the middle school; and renovations to the district’s other school buildings.
“The time is now, and even if we start now we’re behind,” Pollock said. “The longer we wait, the more we’ll feel growing pains. Right now we have 3,652 students. We’ll likely be at 6,000 students by 2025. We just graduated 212 students, one of our smaller classes in recent years. Our fifth grade class is 310, and that class will grow as it moves through high school.”
Pollock said local builders can’t keep up with the demand for new housing; and as new homes are built and student populations grow, Pollock said the district’s challenge is to keep class sizes down.
The current high school was built in 1991 and is starting to age, and Harrison Street Elementary School has an old steam heat system and needs major electrical upgrades. Pollock said it would be impossible to address those major facilities needs out of the district’s $37 million operating budget.
“Our facilities committee looked at addition options, and that was clearly more expensive,” Pollock said. “There are several reasons that we need to do this now. I would love to wait. I live in the school district and pay taxes here, but as a mother I don’t want my kids to suffer the crowded consequences.”