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Columbiana voters face special election for levy to fix school

August 1, 2012
Morning Journal News

COLUMBIANA - The day is drawing near for residents of the Columbiana school district to vote on a $4 million bond issue for the refurbishment of South Side Middle School.

The 1.237 mill bond issue will appear on the Aug. 7 election ballot and will be for 29 years if it passes.

Board of education members unanimously decided at the end of April the bond issue is necessary to properly maintain buildings in the face of state budget cuts. Over a three-year period the district has experienced a $663,210 reduction in state funding and is projected to lose another $107,037 in 2013, according to information available at, the site created and maintained by the district's building excellence committee.

The website also features detailed information about the bond issue and a link to where homeowners can calculate the exact amount the tax will cost them if approved. The bond issue will cost the owner of a $100,000 home $37.88 a year.

A majority of the $4 million generated from the bond issue will be put toward renovations at South Side Middle School, which was originally built in 1962.

"We are trying to preserve our middle school. We have done a nice job of preserving Joshua Dixon Elementary," Superintendent Don Mook said.

He added that the school's roof is in "tremendous need" of repair. A metal roof was installed over the multi-purpose room and kitchen in 2000, but leaking has caused ceiling tiles to turn brown and sag in areas. Other refurbishments would include upgrades to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, and handicap accessibility.

Mook has said the cost to refurbish the building is significantly less than the cost to replace, which was estimated at upwards of $12 million.

"Anything that we can do now to preserve that building will potentially avert us from having to look to the community later on down the road to spend probably three or four times as much money to start over again ... We don't have the means at this point in time with our regular budget to pour $4 million in the district," he said.

A portion of the bond issue money will be used for parking lot repairs/resurfacing, sidewalk repairs/replacement, track resurfacing, refinishing of gym floors, and the construction of a building near the track behind the school.

When the board approved placing the bond issue on the ballot, they had also approved placing a $1 million operating tax levy on the ballot as well. The tax levy was later rescinded by the board based on positive changes to the five-year financial forecast, but the bond issue remained.

There has been some confusion among residents who are questioning whether a levy is going to be on the ballot. Some have said they weren't aware there was going to be levy, although the information was in two newspaper stories.

Mook said some of the confusion could be a result of the district's lack of advertising for the bond, but that is not allowed by law.

"Folks feel like the school should be putting up signs. The school itself cannot put up signs. That's why you have to have a committee that basically goes out and solicits donations," he said.

The committee has been able to advertise the bond issue on the building excellence web page and a Facebook page it created at no expense to taxpayers, he added.

Committee chairman Scott Caron has also attended some community events to answer questions as needed, he said.

Caron said that in speaking with residents many were wondering why the bond issue was placed on the August ballot and not November. He said the reason is because the district wants to have a new roof on the school before winter. "When there is any type of water there is always a chance of mold and we want to eliminate those risks for children," he said, adding the problems are especially severe for those with asthma.

Another question residents had was why the committee chose to use electronic means of advertising the bond issue as opposed to signs.

"One of the reasons was, because of the limited time frame that we had, we thought we'd go with electronic contact-the web site and the Facebook page. We (thought) we could hit more people with that quickly than trying to put signs out," he said.

He added that some people in the community didn't understand that the Joshua Dixon Elementary school renovation was paid for through the refinancing of the high school.

He believes the bond issue will benefit residents down the road because having a good school building will keep property values high.

He noted that the district has been ranked among the top 10 in the nation as far as academics and seventh in the nation with regards to technology.

"We hope our community will support this issue. We appreciate everything they do and we are trying to keep our schools as strong both academically as well as physically," Mook said.

The special election is expected to cost the county elections board about $6,000, which district will be required to reimburse.



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