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Superintendent lays out alternative if school levy fails

Poland voters will chose plan

An architect’s proposal for a new Poland Seminary High School. (Drawing courtesy of GPD Group)

POLAND — Poland schools have a “Plan B” in case voters don’t want the new school buildings.

“Our mission is to get the word out,” Superintendent Craig Hockenberry said. “We need to let people know where we will be financially with both the new and keeping the old.”

The Poland Board of Education earlier this month had a retreat to look over an architect’s rendering of what three new buildings would look like, including a new high school, middle school and elementary building.

A lot of work went into planning for new schools, Hockenberry said, but he’s facing the reality of what to do if voters say no.

This November, voters will either say they want the new facilities, or they will say they want to keep the old ones. All new buildings could require a $100 million bond levy — but the school board has not yet moved on a final plan or placing a ballot issue.

Either way, new or old fix-ups, they are both close to the same cost, the superintendent said.

The new would cost up front with almost no major maintenance issues, or the old structures will have major maintenance issues on an annual basis for the future years.

“I will not be going door to door saying vote for the bond levy,” Hockenberry said. “I am going to say, ‘here are both options, which one do you want?'”

PLANS IN PLACE

The superintendent said his bottom line is to have a plan in place for the future.

“Poland’s enrollment is going up,” he said. “McKinley is full (right now), so if voters say no, we will have to open either North or Union, or bring back Dobbins for the 2024-25 school year.”

In looking at each option, Hockenberry said:

∫ Opening the North building would cost several million dollars. That school building has not been used for eight years. He added that staff would have to be hired and repairs would have to be made to the playground.

“By the 2024-25 school year, we would have to have a new operating levy,” he said.

∫ The Union building, the second option, would be cheaper to initially open, Hockenberry said, but would cost more down the road in maintenance because of its age. He said that would see the need for an operating levy in the 2025-26 school year.

∫ The third option, he said, is to move the board of education offices out of the Dobbins building and move the elementary grades there. The board offices could then be moved to Union, but this option would not be permanent.

“It would be a temporary fix that would push the need for a levy out a few years over the other two options,” he said.

KEEPING THE OLD

If voters want to keep the old buildings, it will cost over the coming years. Hockenberry said the district is spending between $1 million to $3 million per year to make repairs to keep the buildings operational.

With the older buildings, the repairs and maintenance comes out of the district’s permanent improvement fund. That fund has a balance of $2.5 million, but the present facilities are expected to need $20 million over the next several years. One major project is the high school roof and the parking lot.

“If we deplete the PI fund, then the repairs that still have to be made will be coming from the general fund we use for daily operations,” said school district Treasurer Janet Muntean.

LOAN CONSOLIDATION

She said in the past, the district has taken out loans to deal with facility improvements. Those loans include $3 million in 2009 to add two classrooms at the high school, put a new roof on McKinley, add windows and a kindergarten classroom at Union, and renovate the administrative offices; $1.7 million in 2009 for HVAC at Poland Seminary High School and automating the HVAC districtwide; and in 2001 the district took out a $5.3 million loan for air conditioning in all five buildings, rooflines at Dobbins and North, the connector at McKinley and interior renovations at McKinley and the middle school.

“Each of those loans were at different banks,” Muntean said. “I worked with Huntington Public Capital to combine those three loans into one.”

She said that saved the district interest and will help pay off the loan a lot faster. The combining took place in 2019 and the loans could be paid off by the target date of 2026. The district is paying roughly $600,000 per year on the loans.

She said keeping the older buildings would be expensive, but the district would have to do what it can to keep going.

“We have $20 million in projects that will need done and if there is no PI fund money, then we will have to dip into the general fund,” Muntean said. “If we can’t pay for anything, then we will just keep patching.”

Muntean said the last time Poland had a levy was in 2012 with a 5.9-mill emergency operating levy that raised $2.1 million.

A NEW APPROACH

A plan that the majority of voters seem to support is new, separate schools. A district survey showed all grades on one campus didn’t seem to be what the majority wanted.

GPD Group, which submitted the drawings as concepts. went to work to come up with what the three new buildings could look like. It included a new K-5 school at the North Elementary site, a new grade 6 to 8 school at College Street, and a new Seminary High School on the present high school property on Dobbins Avenue.

The K-5 building would be built on the North Elementary site after that school is demolished. The new school is a one-floor building based on what staff said would be best for the younger children. The new facility would be nearly four times the size of the present school and would have classroom wings.

The middle school would be constructed at the College Street property. McKinley would be demolished and the new school would join the existing connector.

The high school would be a two-story structure to be built between the existing high school and the stadium. The design allows for the new building to go up while students use the present high school.

jtwhitehouse@vindy.com

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