HOWARD – After a year of board discussions, building tours and community engagement sessions, the East Knox Board of Education made it official Tuesday night with a vote: the school district will place a 37-year, $19 million levy on the November ballot that, if passed, will fund the construction of a new junior/senior high school.
Superintendent Steve Larcomb estimated the 3.3-mill levy would cost district residents $9.63 per month (or $115.50 per year), per $100,000 home. Those dollars would fund 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. Board members have questioned the long-term sustainability of the junior/senior high school, which lacks air conditioning and is in need of major roof repairs. By building a new school, board president Dustin Buckingham said the district will save money long-term and provide a better learning environment for students.
“I think this is a really great value for our community. You’re looking at $10 a month for a $100,000 home, and that takes care of our facilities issues for probably a generation, and this community won’t continue to have to deal with those things,” Buckingham said.
“It’s also going to save us a lot of maintenance costs that would be coming up in the future. So I just think it’s a great service to the community, a great opportunity that we can take advantage of.”
Buckingham praised the board for its diligence in getting this issue on the November ballot, as the board spent long nights fleshing out potential building options and developing a plan.
“I’m really proud of the board for the work they’ve put in over the last year to get this done. I know the meetings and stuff, it’s kind of a pain to go through the process,” Buckingham said. “This is really a big win for our community.”
The district will now assemble a levy committee to raise support for the new school. Larcomb said district resident Gary Schworm has already agreed to serve as the chairman of the committee. Schworm led the committee in 2016 that helped pass the district’s operating levy, which had previously failed nine times in a row.
Schworm was also one of the first residents to speak at a school board meeting in support of building a new school. When the board had initial doubts about whether or not the district would support a levy, he offered words of encouragement.
“I would say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ If it goes down, it goes down. It’s these people’s kids and grandkids, it’s for them and it’s for the next generation. And if they don’t want to support it, they don’t want to support it,” Schworm told the board last July.
“But maybe they do. I wouldn’t be afraid. If it goes down, it goes down. Put it on again, just keep trying. Eventually, it’s gonna pass and you’re gonna have a new building.”
Larcomb said Schworm and his team will likely go door-to-door campaigning for levy support, as they did in 2016.
“That seemed to resonate well with our community,” Larcomb said.
If the bond issue passes, construction would take approximately two years, Larcomb said. Junior/senior high classes would be conducted in modular units during that time.
Along with building a new junior/senior high school, East Knox 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 under the district’s plan. The elementary building, just a decade old, would remain untouched.
Before deciding on the current renovation plan, the East Knox school board conducted community engagement sessions and worked with architects at Fanning Howey Associates to determine the best option for the district.
The board considered keeping the high school’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.
“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 this spring. “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.”
Larcomb seemed confident that the levy will pass on Nov. 5. While the old junior/senior high school is considered a community relic, having served generations of East Knox graduates, Larcomb said its needs are self-evident.
“I think anybody that walks through the building or sees the building, it sells itself," he said.
Larcomb hopes the school district's newfound momentum will encourage residents to vote 'yes.' He noted that the district has maintained fiscal responsibility in recent years, having earned more money than it’s spent six years in a row.
The district has seen teacher retention rates increase; just five teachers resigned or left the district after the 2018-19 school year, Larcomb said, as opposed to “15 or 16” in years past. East Knox has also seen an increase in enrollment over recent years, a trend Larcomb expects to continue.
“I have high expectations,” Larcomb said of the levy. “This is a great community with wonderful folks that have been very supportive through the years.”