Bowling Green City Schools voters may soon have another opportunity to have their say on new high school.
The board of education held a work session Thursday to discuss whether to return for a bond issue request, whether to contract with an architect to get a rendition of what a new high school may look like, and also the best way to fund the project.
No action was taken.
“Clearly, the bond issue that failed in November was heartbreaking,” said board member Ryan Myers, who led the hour-long work session.
The community recognizes that the school buildings are in bad shape, he said.
“It is incumbent upon us to do something about that,” Myers said. “This is something that can’t wait. Clearly our buildings need attention.”
The board consensus was to post a request for qualifications to find an architect to design a potential high school and, on the recommendation of board member Ginny Stewart, to also provide a mock-up of a consolidated elementary and neighborhood elementaries.
“People want to know what the vision is,” said board member Tracy Hovest. “People need to see it.”
Myers said a virtual walkthrough should be considered, as well as having students talk about how they would utilize the space of a new high school.
“I don’t want to be shy about this. I want to be out there banging on the drum,” Myers said.
Superintendent Francis Scruci said there was no cost for a request for qualifications but warned that while some voters may not support something they can’t see, others may get caught up in the details and vote no because they don’t like the design.
Board members also agreed that November was the best option to again ask voters to support a building project.
“This isn’t something that can wait. Our buildings need attention,” Myers said.
“We have put so many combinations in front of the community,” said board member Jill Carr, “we are more well-versed now than we’ve been in a long time.”
With Abbott Laboratories bringing 450 jobs to the city with its new $536 million powder formula plant, the district can’t afford to delay acting on new facilities, Hovest said.
If there aren’t better Bowling Green schools, Abbott employees may move to Perrysburg or Findlay, she said.
Abbott workers need to come to a community where buildings are in decent shape, and we don’t have that, Myers said.
“Everyone wants their kids to have good things. And they don’t want to put their kids in these buildings,” said high school principal Dan Black. “We’re just not competing.”
“We owe it to the kids,” board member Norm Geer said.
He said the board has not forgotten the need to address the elementaries.
“I stand by every levy we’ve put on the ballot. I feel like we need to build new. If we’re going to spend the money then we need to build new,” Hovest said.
No decision has been made on how to fund the project, but the initial consensus was 100% property tax.
“Affordabilitywise for taxpayers, it’s all real estate,” said district Treasurer Cathy Schuller.
Schuller said the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $186 a year for a $70 million project if property tax was the sole funding source.
Hovest said the board has tried to give everyone a skin in the game, referring to past bond issues where funding was split between property and income taxes, but it now has to do what’s the most affordable.
Geer added that over 30 years, the cost to individual homeowners will drop as more houses are built.
Carr asked if there was any way to self-fund the project, using tax abatement money from Abbott and pipeline revenue.
Schuller said, based on a 5.25% interest rate, the pipeline could contribute $20 million over 30 years. The tax abatement from Abbott amounts to $4 million in the next 15 years.
“Both of those numbers are far less than what we would need to build a new building, and they’re not solid right now,” Schuller said.
She warned about committing funds from Abbott until construction actually begins, and also noted the continued appeals with the pipeline.
Myers suggested the district reapply to the state’s Expedited Local Partnership Program. The board entered the program prior to the first attempt to get voter approval for a consolidated elementary.
Myers suggested bringing in representatives from districts that have used the ELPP to describe the process.
The district currently ranks 505 out of 610 school districts, which amounts to between 13% and 18% in state funding for the project, Schuller said.
Scruci reminded the board that the state’s ELPP money only comes to the district as a reimbursement after the project is complete and then only if any funds are still available.
Stewart said the reason past bond issues weren’t approved was because collectively people didn’t care.
She said that since November, the people she has met with in the city are for the first time realizing that what the district does affects everything and are asking what they can do to help.
“I hope that moving forward, it’s not just rhetoric. I hope that there is a commitment from many entities in this community that care,” Stewart said.
“I think we’ve learned that not everybody is going to be happy but at the end of the day we’re trying to do what’s best for kids,” Hovest said.
Scruci was blunt, saying people need to decide if they value education.
“This comes down to people’s pockets,” he said.
Voters in the city have supported the bond issues, but there is a faction of the community that hasn’t, and they’ve singlehandedly defeated it and taken pride in that, Scruci said.
“They’re hiding behind excuses. … It’s been one challenge after another and we’re getting further and further in the hole,” he said.
“I’ve been the scapegoat for some of these people,” Scruci said. “It’s just another excuse.
“I hope it passes and I hope I’m the reason it passes.”
Scruci’s contract expires at the end of July, and he plans to retire at that time or sooner.
“When I walk away and it fails again, who are they going to blame then?” he asked.