HOWARD – East Knox will soon have a new junior/senior high school for the first time in 80 years.
Voters approved a 3.3-mill levy in Tuesday’s general election that will give the school district $19 million over 37 years to pay for the construction of a new junior/senior high school, as well as improvements to existing facilities and future maintenance costs.
The bond issue passed by 122 votes; 52 percent of district voters supported the levy, while 48 percent opposed it. Superintendent Steve Larcomb said he was “ecstatic” about the results.
“I’m just extremely excited – very happy for our students, for this community,” Larcomb said. “We appreciate all the hard work the [levy] committee and so many people put into this bond issue, to make it happen. We greatly appreciate the support for this school district."
The levy will cost district residents an estimated $9.63 per month (or $115.50 per year), per $100,000 home. Those funds will be used to demolish and replace the junior/senior high school, with the exception of the 1994 addition (which contains the gym, cafeteria, and several offices and classrooms).
The district also plans to 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 will also be addressed, Larcomb said.
The VoAg building will be moved to the east side of the new high school under the district’s plan. The elementary building, just a decade old, will remain untouched.
Larcomb said the goal is to have this project completed by the start of the 2022-23 school year. Junior/senior high classes will be conducted in modular units during the two-year construction phase.
“It’s going to be an interesting time – a time of patience – as we move things around,” Larcomb said.
After nine straight failed attempts, East Knox Local Schools was finally able to pass an operating levy in 2016. The district passed its second straight levy on Tuesday night, which Larcomb said is a testament to the trust being built between the district and its residents.
“We’ll continue to earn their trust as we do what we say we’re going to do… We say what we mean and we follow through on it. We’re good for our word,” Larcomb said. “We do everything above board, open and honest, and people recognize that.”
Tuesday’s vote came down to the wire. With 42 of 53 precincts reporting, the levy had 739 votes for it and 740 against it. But by the time the Knox County Board of Elections released final results, the levy had gained enough support to pass by just over 100 votes.
Larcomb watched the results trickle in alongside members of the district’s levy committee at Nancy Maria’s Pizza in Howard. He said he felt confident the issue would pass after seeing the absentee ballot totals earlier that night, which showed a three-vote lead for those in support of the levy.
“In all honesty, I never lost the faith that we were going to win this at any point,” Larcomb said. “I’ve been optimistic all fall that we would pass this.”
Larcomb thanked the district’s levy committee for its tireless work in gaining voter support. The committee went door-to-door within the school district and also sent home literature regarding the need for a new facility. Larcomb believes it was this grassroots effort that allowed the district to connect with voters and gain the support it needed.
“I think the key to it was going door-to-door and looking people in the eye,” the superintendent said.
Major facility improvements have been a long time coming for East Knox Local Schools, Larcomb said. The oldest section of the junior/senior high school was built in 1939 and has received six rounds of major renovations since. The facility suffers from electrical and plumbing issues, and portions of the roof are deteriorating. Windows on the front side of the building have been boarded up over the years. East Knox is also the only junior/senior high school in Knox County without air conditioning.
“We have immediate needs and we were going to have to spend millions of dollars to do renovations,” Larcomb said. “There’s a tipping point where you say, ‘Are we going to spend millions to do renovations, or spend a few extra million to have a brand new, state-of-the-art facility?’”
That was the question the levy committee posed to voters, and voters answered.
“I think once again, we need to thank the voters and all the folks that have the faith and the support they have for everything we do in the district,” Larcomb said. “It’s all about the future of our children and the voters have positioned this district well for decades to come.”
Now, the district will send out requests for qualifications for professional design services. The district hired Fanning Howey Associates, out of Dublin, for its pre-bond architectural services, but it is not obligated to hire the firm for the next phase of the project.
Larcomb noted that the district may very well hire Fanning Howey Associates for the building phase, as they worked together during the construction of East Knox’s elementary school. However, at this point, the district is keeping its options open. The goal will be to hire a firm by the end of January, Larcomb said.
The East Knox Board of Education began discussing the possibility of a new school last summer. In the time since, the board conducted building tours and hosted community engagement sessions to try to gauge the community’s interest. After several discussions over levy timing, the board voted to put the bond issue on the ballot this year.
Larcomb said Tuesday he was proud of the school board for its diligence and its faith in the levy, which will benefit the district for generations to come.
“A couple years ago, the board adopted a mission statement of ‘Honor the past, nurture the present, and envision the future,’” Larcomb said. “Our board has embraced that mission statement and it’s really guided us over the course of the past four years in particular.”
Larcomb called the completion of a new junior/senior high school “the final jewel in the crown that is East Knox Schools.” Driving home from Nancy Maria’s on Tuesday night, he said had had goosebumps.
“I’m so excited,” Larcomb said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep tonight.”