By MAX FILBY
Van Buren School District is asking residents to approve a $29.3 million bond issue to expand its campus.
If voters approve the 37-year, 6.9-mill package on the May 6 ballot, it would pay for building 37 new classrooms and a new gym at the middle school and high school.
The district is not eligible for state funding for the project because its property valuation is too high, considering its enrollment.
“We’re very hopeful that the community will understand our needs,” Superintendent Tim Myers said.
Since announcing the bond issue in January, the district has hosted a number of open houses and information sessions that “were not highly attended,” Myers said.
Despite the low attendance, Myers is confident the levy will pass. “We’re not really hearing any intentional opposition to it,” he said.
Myers has also been active in communicating with community members via email and in the district’s newsletter about the expansion.
The project’s new classrooms and gym would replace an existing portion of the school that was built in 1918, making it almost 96 years old.
That part of the building is so old that it regularly has water main leaks, Myers said.
“It happens a lot just because of the years of deposits and sulfur buildup in the pipes,” Myers said.
The building’s chimney and floors are deteriorating, too. Older buildings also make it difficult to implement newer technology in classrooms, he said.
“We need to pass this levy or we’re going to have to keep pouring money into fixing these problems,” Myers said.
The project also would include improvements to the heating and air conditioning systems in both of Van Buren’s schools.
The district’s expanding enrollment and desire to further use technology in classes are additional reasons for the expansion, he said.
“Education has changed,” Myers said. “I’d like to think that we can create better learning spaces for our students than we have now.”
The district’s enrollment is about 1,100 students, Myers said.
“It’s not huge, but I don’t believe it’s ever been that high before,” he said.
To expand its campus, the district purchased two neighboring houses and is looking into buying three more if the levy passes.
In March, the Van Buren school board approved the purchase of 211 S. Main St. and 205 Maple St. at the combined price of $206,000.
Both properties were owned by Van Buren resident Ruthellen Yildez.
Yildez lives in one of the houses, and her daughter and grandchildren live in the other. Yildez asked the school district to expedite the purchase because her daughter was already looking at another house.
If the district is unable to make deals to purchase the remaining three properties, Myers said the district would just build around them.
“It’ll be fine, we would still have a quality facility,” he said of the school construction.
If the levy does not pass, Myers it will likely reappear on the November ballot. If it still fails to pass, the district would instead expand its parking lot onto the two properties it purchased.
“As landlocked as we are, we could always use additional parking too,” Myers said.
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