HOWARD – The East Knox Board of Education came one step closer on Thursday to placing a levy on the November ballot that, if passed, would fund the construction of a new junior/senior high school.
The school board voted to pass a resolution of necessity, declaring a 37-year, $19 million bond issue will be necessary for the construction of a new facility. The board also passed a resolution requesting state consent to issue a bond, as is required when a district already has another bond issue in place (the district is still paying off the junior/senior high wing that was built in 1994).
Now, county auditor Jonette Curry will calculate the millage for the potential bond issue (the school board estimates it will come out near 3.25 mills). That final figure will be presented at the board’s July 9 meeting, when the board will then vote on a resolution to proceed. If the resolution passes by at least four votes, the levy will be on the November ballot.
The district’s construction proposal calls for the demolition and replacement of the junior/senior high school, with the exception of the 1994 addition (which contains the gym, cafeteria, and several offices and classrooms). The oldest section of the school was built in 1939 and has received six rounds of major renovations since.
Under the proposal, the district would also replace portions of the roof (above the cafeteria and administrative offices) and install a new HVAC unit in the 1994 addition. Electric and plumbing concerns would also be addressed. The VoAg building would be moved to the east side of the new high school, and the elementary building would remain untouched.
The East Knox school board has spent the last year gathering community feedback and working with an architectural design firm to determine the most affordable, impactful school renovation option. After initially considering several options, the board announced in April it would be pursuing this project because it was the most efficient use of taxpayer money and district space.
East Knox Superintendent Steve Larcomb said after Thursday night’s meeting that he feels confident the district will support the construction of a new school.
“We’re hearing positive things. In talking to board members and talking to other folks, we’re hearing a lot of positive comments,” Larcomb said. “I will say that before our community engagement meeting on May 14, I saw somebody in town, it was a brother to one of our employees that retired not long ago. He said, ‘I graduated from that building 50 years ago and it needed replaced then.’ So like I said, a lot of positive things.”
If district voters were to pass the levy in November, construction would take approximately two years, Larcomb said. Junior/senior high classes would be conducted in modular units during that time.
“Is it an inconvenience? Absolutely,” Larcomb said in April. “But is it something that we can do? We think, 'Yes, we can.'”
While the old junior/senior high school is considered a community relic, having served generations of East Knox graduates, it has also seen better days. It lacks air conditioning and is in need of major roof repairs, Larcomb said. Some of the building’s windows are boarded up, and BOE vice president Derrick Steinmetz said last summer it was “not conducive to learning.”
“Doing nothing is not an option for us,” Larcomb said. “We have to address the issues in that building.”
The board considered keeping the building’s original frame while renovating the interior. However, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission estimated it would cost $13 million to do so, and the board felt taxpayer money would be better spent on a permanent fix.
“It’s like taking your 1975 Pacer and gutting it and replacing everything,” Larcomb said of the interior renovation option. “You’ve still got a 1975 Pacer.”
The board vowed not to spend more than $20 million on the project, and after accounting for inflation and rising construction costs, the price presented Thursday still falls under that cap.
If the board passes a resolution to proceed at its July meeting, district voters will have the final say in whether or not a new school gets built. By involving district residents in each step of the decision-making process, the board feels it has developed a plan voters will support.
It’s a project months in the making, Larcomb said, that could impact the district for generations to come.
“This is a community that, you know, people work hard for their money. And so we’re not looking to build some kind of a palace,” Larcomb said. “We want to replace educational space that’s functional, that meets our students’ needs and meets our staff’s needs, and is a source of pride for the community.”